Health · Learning · Psychology

Learning how to learn

From an Interview between Shane Parish of Farnam Street and Barbara Oakley who has recently written a book on the subject backed by years of academic research.

How can we learn new things optimally? (This applies to both abstract ideas like math and physical skills like playing music)

The distinction we draw between rote learning and understanding is artificial. You need both repetition and understanding, the two go hand in hand, you are building up the structure in your brain that embeds the memory of what it is and why, you understand more and deeper as you repeat it and the pattern becomes clear and embedded in our brain.

You need both focus time and what neurologists call ‘default mode’ time. The brain consolidates knowledge and makes connections during ‘default mode’. Default mode is the mode we normally operate in when we are not focused but just operating eg. when driving, walking, exercising or eating as our mind jumps around from one thought to another, and we are aware of ourselves and our place in the world.

Pomodor principle: Concentrate hard and focus for 25 minutes and then reward yourself by doing something else and letting the default mode happen. (The reward re-enforces the learning as something enjoyable and the change in activity allows the brain to consolidate knowledge.)

During the focus mode, the best way to embed understanding after having read a page of material is to look away and recall the key concepts from the last page and work through them mentally. More effective than underlining or re-reading. Repetition of the the same thing like re-reading can actually be unhelpful because our brain assumes it knows and skips over rather than really connecting.

Variety is great for the brain. There is little evidence for the idea that some people are auditory and some people are visual or kinaesthetic learners. We all learn through all of these modes. Our learning is amplified if we combine different methods, it keeps the brain engaged and excited, building the patterns. The wackier the connections the more likely it is that the brain will remember it (hence memory palace and other visualisation techniques)

Exercise is also good at encouraging dendritic extension of neurons (the little branches on the neurons that extend to and connect with other neutrons) because of the growth factors it releases in the brain. Different views on whether it’s better to learn before or after exercise but either way it seems to help.

Get really good sleep is essential for forming the memories properly. Sleep well.

Business culture · Learning

Great questions #2

I like to collect great questions, they motivate me towards deeper thinking and insights. The questions you ask can drive change in your life. So I will be adding a more regular set of question posts to this blog to remind myself of the interesting questions I come across that I want to ask myself. (Great questions #1 was the post on asking Why 5 times)

Episode two is a series of questions that Debbie Millman (designer, creator of the Design Matters podcast and lecturer on design in New York) asks of her design students when they think about their careers:

  • Am I spending enough time on looking for, finding and working towards winning a great job?
  • Am I constantly learning and refining my skills?
  • What can I continue to get better and more competitive at ?
  • Do I believe I am working harder than everyone else? If not what can and should I be doing in order to be able to accomplish that?
  • What are the people who are competing with me doing, that I am not doing?
  • Am I doing everything I can, every day, to stay in career shape? If not what else should I be doing?

What to ignore or not do in her opinion:

  • Don’t try to be a people person. Have a point of view, share it meaningfully, respectfully and with conviction.
  • She does not believe in work life balance. When your work is your calling, it is a labour of love. You don’t count the minutes. Work can be a life affirming engagement. In you are in your 20s and 30s, if you want a life affirming career, you must work hard, if you don’t work harder than others you will not get ahead. If you are doing something you love you don’t want work life balance, you want to do what you love as often as possible.

With regards to the latter, while I don’t completely agree with Debbie I understand the sentiment behind what she is saying. I think the key is her phrase, “when work is your calling”. What is “your calling” today?

I would perhaps rephrase as: decide very clearly where your long term priorities are, what “your calling” is: which relationships are important, what are the things you love to do and want to do, and how do you prioritise those? Write down the list, and make that list a list of only the essentials: as small and focused as possible. And then go all in on these priorities: focus with real intensity on these and cut out the other distractions in your life.

And finally, these priorities will probably change throughout your life. Mine are certainly different in my 40s from my 20s. That’s okay, be sure to reappraise them regularly. Once a year at least, once a quarter even better. I have mine written down and pinned next to my to do list so that I am reminded of them at least once a week.

Learning · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships

Catherine Hoke and the need for Second Chances in society

[The Tim Ferriss Show] Catherine Hoke — The Master of Second Chances

This is an inspirational podcast. Catherine runs an organisation called Defy that works with prisoners in the US to give them a second chance through an intensive training program and then, after their release, support.

I am not going to try to summarise everything because it’s so worthwhile and inspiring listening to Catherine.

My brief takeaways:

– the dangers of the self critical voices in our heads

– the power of forgiving yourself, the power of forgiving others

– getting the balance right between realism, positivity and negative self talk

– ‎inspiration to set challenging goals and going after them

– ‎being unafraid to contact people and keep at asking them (nicely) until you get what you want, and how to form connections with them (research commonalities)

– ‎the dangers of having to live up to a perfect ideal in society, church or organisations

– ‎the assumptions we make about those in prison

– ‎what does it feel like to be an ex convict: imagine what it would be like to be identified by, and reminded of your most shameful moment every day of your life

– ‎the inspiration to give something back to society and in particular, that everyone willing to own their past mistakes and wanting to change, deserves a second chance

– ‎focusing on the 5% that you can do, that no one else can do

– ‎writing your own eulogy as you expect it will play out on your current life course versus how you would like it to play out and what 10 changes you need to make to make that a reality?

Listen, learn and be more compassionate towards yourself and others.

Business Culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Givers, Takers and Matchers

Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist who has published a book on this concept of the way individuals operate and how they then function in organisations. Organisational citizenship behaviour is the field of organisational psychology focused on behaviours that are not relevant to the task at hand but critical to the success of the effectiveness of the business: speaking up with ideas, effective team work, going the extra mile, sportsmanship, showing loyalty, helping out day to day.

Adam hypothesises a mental model of three basic types of people driven by different values

Givers ask “what can I do for you?”. Givers have a “trust first, ask questions later” bias or heuristic (at least to begin with in an organisation). They have a core value and belief that starts with an assumption that others will be generous. They are afraid of becoming a doormat, being taken advantage of. They are driven by values of generosity and helpfulness.

Takers ask “what can you do for me”. They believe other people are selfish, are mistrustful and prefer to take first to ensure that they get what they want. Takers tend to believe that “other people are always out to take advantage of a situation” and even if people are well behaved suspect “opportunism laced with guile”

Matchers tend to think “I don’t want to be too selfish, if you do something for me, I will do something for you”. They are driven by values of fairness and justice. Matchers start off more conciously thinking “I will be fair to you, and I will make sure I dont get more than I deserve but I dont get less than I deserve.”

Most people have a default mode of operating. Lots of people do adopt a matching strategy to play it safe in an organisation, but most have a tendency towards being either more like givers or more like takers. Some matchers do take the strategy to an extreme and optimise to constantly be in a balance of fair trades which feels very transactional, does not build trust and does not optimise for the long term

Adam wanted to understand how organisations develop their cultures and the types of people who are attracted to them and who succeeds and who fails in those organisations.

He did studies classifying people into the three groups and then measuring outcomes. In aggregate more people are matchers than either givers or takers. So his basic questions were:

What sort of structures are optimal for team and individual performance? Who succeeds and why?

Organisational norms and culture can influence the types of team work that develops. Some organisations are highly competitive and will attract takers, others highly collaborative and attract more givers.

What happens when an organisation tries to change its culture. Highly competitive teams with lots of Takers that try to be more collaborative often end up with a “cut throat collaboration”: This operates as “I will pretend to help you but I am really just waiting for an opportunity to stab you in the back when I can get ahead”.

If you start off collaborative and then move more competitive you often get friendly competition, “I am going to try to be more competitive with you but I am really hoping you push me to raise my game and afterwards we go out for drinks and the loser buys the winner drinks”

Culture comes from what you incentivise and reward. A strong individual compensation focus tends to drives takers, versus collective compensation that tends to drive givers. An organisation full of takers is not going to attract givers.

You don’t want to influence takers to become better fakers by just telling them what you measure: they will then just focus on achieving that. So be careful of being too explicit in your objective setting. If the culture is not strong and carefully managed, you can end up in a culture where the most visibile takers/fakers are the only ones who are successful. Ie you reward those able to manipulate the system.

Instead focusing on the incentives, focus on taking away the disincentives to be Givers in an organisation. Demonstrate that you value their behaviour. For example “to make partner here you have to be more selfish” is not sending the right signal.

In many team work and service orientated jobs no one wants a taker on the team and organisations often find ways of weeding them out so the organisations tend to be heavier in Givers and Matchers.

Darwin proposed a theory of Group Selection: “If you had a tribe where they were always ready to aid one another and sacrifice themselves for the common good, they would be victorious over most other tribes” and that would lead to the possibility of group selection in evolution. The theory was and is controversial but later evidence does seem to prove that under certain conditions there does seem to be evidence for this. A group of all takers is likely to often end up with suboptimal outcomes as individuals aim to maximise their own outcomes and not the groups.

In an analysis of performance evaluation and promotion decisions across 51,000 appraisals across multiple organisations, they found that the amount of time you spend helping others is as critical to assessments of performance, as to how well you do your own actual tasks.

Curiously Givers end up more often at the tails of the distribution either succeeding big or failing big in the business. Even after controlling for other factors this continues to be the case in his data. So for Givers what determines their success or failure?

Their strategy determines this: if you are a Giver, then who you help, when you help and how you help determines your success.

Over time people get feedback and reinforcement on the job. Some Givers get positive reinforcement and go on to succeed. others get negative feedback and reinforcement, feel they are taken advantage of and decide they need to change. The question is whether they change their style (i.e. become a Matcher) or change their strategy (who, how, and why they help).

The danger for Givers is deciding to just to be reactive and help with whatever requests come their way instead of deciding carefully what sort of giving behaviour does the organisation actually need? Is their behaviour aligning with the organisation’s mission and teams objectives.

Time management skills are critical for performance and productivity. Givers who are not thoughtful about how they spend their time can have terrible productivity. Being thoughtful on time management can also be clearly more helpful to others.

An ideal team in Adams view, has a mixture of Givers and Matchers. Matchers tend to be generous because they are matching givers. But you need the Matchers to weed out Takers because givers can be to trusting and too generous to takers whereas matchers will be much harder on them. Matchers believe more in fairness and justice compared to compassion and generosity.

TED talk with Adam Grant

And this Knowledge Cast episode with Shane Parish

Farnam Street interview with Adam Grant

Business · Investment · Psychology

Human behavioural motivations and insights with Rory Sutherland

Here is a facinating conversation between Shane Parish of Farnam Street and Rory Sutherland, the Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group, one of the largest advertising companies in the world.

Rory started the behavioral insights team at OM and spends his days applying behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology to solve problems for their clients.

The conversation is broad ranging and long (Rory certainly likes the sound of his own voice) but it is littered with hundreds of nuggets of mental models and insights that are applicable to both running a business, investing and understanding trends in the world today including political trends and technological trends like Artificial Intelligence. So well worth a listen.

A few of my takeaways (my own thoughts in italics)

“The problem with (traditional) economics isn’t only that it’s wrong, it’s that it is very creatively limiting, it posits a very one dimensional view of human nature, entirely driven by monetary utility.”

Different consumers respond differently to different distribution channels

Did you know that advertisers have exploited double-blind testing of what works in adverts since the 1800’s, often running different printing presses with different variants of adverts to test which were more successful! The medical world only caught onto this is the mid 1900’s.

In an example he gives an advert in the pre internet era is run in three different forms: an option of responding by mail only, an option responding by telephone only, or an option where both channels were available. In their example the first mail option had a 2.5% response rate, the telephone advert had a 3.5% response rate. The interesting thing is that the combined option had a response rate of around 5.8%, ie. the two different channels for the same thing accessed almost completely different non overlapping groups of consumers. So how you sell something is as important as what you sell.

The value of unpredictability, emotion and irrationality

“It’s impossible for anything completely rational to successfully evolve, because a byproduct of being optimally rational is being completely predictable and if you were completely predictable you would be dead.” In evolutionary terms other aninals would take advantage of you due to your predictability. So there is a danger in looking at everything as an optimisation problem. Our psychology has evolved to be a bit random and unpredictable.


People will take advantage of driverless cars because they are programmed to be safe, pedestrians will walk in front of them or mess around with them to have some fun. Driverless cars will not only have to cope with the normal unpredictability of human drivers but with also how humans will evolve their driving because of how they know driverless cars will behave!

Anger is a useful emotion for humans because the potential to provoke it prevents someone from taking advantage you. They know at some point they will get a reaction and that basically keeps most of us well behaved.

A connected though from me is: Will general artificial intelligence have to develop the same evolutionary mechanisms to operate in our world or survive in a world with other GAIs? Like genetic algorithms will it have to have random mutations or like humans have to evolve emotion to create unpredictability to be able to survive and evolve? What are the implications of that?

Some societies have a cultural tilt towards being tolerant of ambiguity, and have more of an attitude to “give the benefit of the doubt” to someone else compared to those who are more rules driven “this is my right so I will assume I can do this and not make for any allowance for others” – the former (Sweden, Ireland, Netherlands) have lower road accident rates than the latter (Germany, the US). People who are less reliant on rules operate more carefully to avoid costly mistakes.

Contextual biases and value signalling

He explores how the value we place on either a good or service is incredibly contextual. For example we will have a bias towards paying more for the same service or good from one provider or another depending on our sense of the brand of the provider. eg we will pay more for a beer from a boutique hotel than for the same beer sold by a pop-up stand even if we take away all of the “other benefits” like the location and atmosphere. In a financial context think of this as a “boutique hedge fund” versus a lowley long only manager with the same alpha! How does this effect how you market your business?

Other insights into human behaviour from Robert Trivers: his work on Reciprocal altruism (another behavioral trait, that we feel obliged to reciprocate towards someone who is altruistic to us) and work on self deception: Self deception is evolutionarily advantageous, as the best way to deceive others is to believe your own deceits.

Our desire for artificial certainty justified by rational models

Beauracrats, business men (and many investors) love a formula because of the artificial sense of certainty that it creates for then when making a decision. That prevents them from having to exercise judgement for which they might be blamed. Avoidance of blame is a key driver in many businesses.

And that creates herding behaviours because of the asymmetry of reward to getting something right (often a small bonus) versus consequence of getting something wrong (getting fired). The “rational boring norm” is the safe place for most businesses and most peopke working for a big business. Most businesses and people are focused on avoiding bad outcomes rather than maximising the opportunity.

This creates bogus rationality where we try to use simple, understandable algorithns to prove that the decision was logical rather than take a risk of complex judgement demanded in understanding a more complex system: like the financial markets. Does this have potential consequences for the current trend towards “smart beta” algorithms in investing?

This leads on to the role of imagination vs reasoning in decision making. It usually takes takes imagination to formulate an insight or hypothesis and then logic to prove whether it is true. The role of imagination is often downplayed because afterwards we present the thinking as if the linear sequence of the logic led us to the conclusion. Science and insights are very seldom arrived the linear way.

He highlights three different forms of reasoning

Forward reasoning: what will happen next because I know of what has happened so far, based on our heuristics of how the world works. We then can test out model or heuristic by seeing if the outcome matched our expectation. If not we need imagination to hypothesise how to change our models or heuristics.

Reverse reasoning: like a detective, I observe an outcome and then I hypothesise what preconditions could lead to it and like a detective I sift through possibilities. This requires a lot of imagination to hypothesise what could lead to the outcome.

Post-rational reasoning: what we usually do when we come to a conclusion: our emotional limbic system reacts very quickly resulting in a conclusion or action using its heuristic systems in a situation, afterwards we justify the outcome by coming up with a narrative or logic that justifies the decision (fitting the facts to what we want the answer to be). We are post-rational creatures rather than rational creatures. Most of our reasoning happens after we feel an emotion, to justify why we feel the emotion.

The psychology of choices and value.

On a menu we can use the price of different items to signal worth or quality. The menu context pushes people towards selecting certain options, for example seldom choosing the most expensive or cheapest option on the menu, or the more expensive options being indicative of higher quality.

Game theory and the difference between one-off games vs repeat games.

In a repeat game you don’t just optimise your outcome for the next move but for many moves into the future. For example in selling to someone, you don’t just want this sale but future sales to the same customer, so you had better make sure that this experience is a good one for the customer even if that does not maximise your short term profit. In long term games you have to be tustworthy and reputation is incredibly important. Consumers make many choices based on their intuitive understanding of service providers trustworthiness and alignment. The bigger the upfront cost of committing to a decision that takes a long time to see results the more the long term alignment will matter.

There are many practical applications in every day business. For example the focus by many large businesses incentivised by stock market behaviour towards short term earnings results is a bias toward “one time games” to make themselves rich. Think of the contrast between hedge funds with annual performance fees, private equity with 5 or 7 year incentivisation and Amazon with a very long horizon strategy for growing the business through reinvestment.

The value of experimentation.

In business you don’t have to be right all the time, you can be experimental and see what works and what doesnt (provided the cost to testing is low). It is important to test some counterintuitive or imaginative ideas because as its much more valuable when they pay off as your competitors won’t or are unlikely to have tested them.

In the case of the financial markets the payoff of a contrarian bet may be large as it is counter to expectations with little downside if the crowd is already pricing in the consensus scenario.

So have a listen here

Learning · Science

How do our brains work?

There are a lot of reasons I am interested in this question:

1. It’s probably the most complex machine nature has evolved. Yet it runs on the power of a 20watt lightbulb when an equivalent computer would require 24 million watts of power!

2. My dad has dementia. There is a whole lot of research going on into what causes this and what we might be able to do to prevent or even help with it in the future. Too late for him but hopefully in time for my children.

3. We are fast developing various forms of Artificial Intelligence and understanding the way our brains work will form the basis for some of the modelling of how “computer brains” may work.

This WaitButWhy post by TimUrban I am linking to is a monster: it’s very long and addresses several big topics. But as usual for Tim it sets things out in a sensible understandable way. It’s overall focus is on what Elon Musk’s Neuralink enterprise is hoping to achieve with Brain/Machine interfaces. But different components of the piece are in themselves so interesting that I feel like I should really just share pieces of it, each of which can pretty much be read as stand alone treatise.

So the first bit I am going to recommend is actually the second and third part of this treatise, which is the piece on how our brain works. Tim manages to pull together and summarise in quite a simple way, our current understanding of the brain, and I found it quite fascinating.

Here is the link Part 2: The Brain. Read part 2 and also part 3 which starts to talk about the challenges of creating Brain, Machine interfaces.

Some of the fascinating pieces that amazed me:

The three main components of the brain: reptilian (the part that keeps our bodies functioning, eg. Hearts and lungs pumping), the limbic system (the Paleo-mamillian system), our primitive survival system of instincts where we get our emotions along with a whole lot of other functionality and some memory functions, and the neo-mamillian outer cortex where we do all of our rational thought, processing and emotional control functions. Things like Daniel Kannehman’s Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow is all about the interaction between these second and third parts of the brain.

The structure and nature of neurons, the basic building blocks of our brains and how they connect and trigger each other is also explained. Did you know that they basically function a lot like a binary computer either sending a signal or not sending a signal? Their activation functions and connections are non linear but their firing is either on or off. I expected something much more analogue!

There are around 100 billion neurons in our brains. (Around about the same number of stars as there are in our galaxy to an order of magnitude – a number that always blows my mind. Think about that for a moment vs the 7bn people we have on earth. And that’s just our galaxy, one of an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Anyway back to earth and your brain…) Your thinking cortex is about 15 to 20% of that total number of neurons and is present only in the outer two milimeters of your brain! (The bulk of the brain below that is taken up with the connections between the axon of each neuron and the others). Each neuron can have synaptic connections (connections that can carry its signal) to between 1000 and 10,000 other neurons! And it’s the restructuring of these connections that gives us our ability to learn. Now that makes a seriously complex machine! Tim does a wonderful illustration scaling up the brain to the size of a few city blocks to try to describe its complexity in a way we can comprehend.

If you have the stamina then read the whole thing, you will need to go back to Part 1, which will be the topic of my next post. If not I am sure to pick up on many of the topics in future posts!



So I admit it, I am a pretty good procrastinator. I work well when a deadline is looming and I need to get a job done. Tim Urban, a great blogger is also a master procrastinator and has spent some time thinking about why this is and what the implications are.

He says it better than I can so here is a link to his hilarious TED talk

My key takeaways:

We often work best when there is a deadline as the “panic monster” kicks in and we drive hard to complete the task at hand in a burst of productivity.

The really dangerous thing is that there are important things in our lives that don’t have deadlines. They are important but not urgent. For example spending time with your family, or making some significant change in your life that you know you need to make. Change is uncomfortable and continuing with life as it is, is convenient today so we don’t make the change. Because these important issues don’t have deadlines, we don’t motivate ourselves to get them done and then as time passes we really regret not having made the change sooner.

So what can we do about this? Firstly set yourself some deadlines. And start to do that by looking at your remaining lifetime here on earth. Be optimistic. Count up how many weeks you have left on this planet assuming you live a healthy productive life to the age of 90, draw them out on a piece of paper and start thinking about what you are going to do with each of those weeks and what you would like to have achieved.

Chatting to a colleague today it really struck home: time is our ultimate non-renewable resource. How we spend it is the most important decision we make each and every day. So give yourself permission to make some dedicated time for yourself, to think through what the most important things are in your life, and set yourself some deadlines to achieve them.

By the way Tim also has an amazing website where he he shares what he has learnt about some really interesting, complex concepts distilled down to quite simple explanations. Check it out at Wait But Why.

Tim Urban does a really good blog called Wait But Why? on all manner of interesting topics. He typically takes a complex topic and aims to simplify it substantially

Business culture · Learning · Psychology · Relationships

Building trust

The foundation of all healthy relationships is trust. The foundation of being able to have good, honest and open debates that make our business better is trust. It’s the foundation for being able to get an honest assessment of business partners. So being able to build trust is an essential skill.

Robin Dreeke is a former FBI agent who headed the behavioural program at the FBI and has authored a book called “The Code of Trust”. He has spent his life figuring out how to motivate people and for him much of it boils down to developing genuine trust which then allows the achievement of common goals. In this podcast with Kevin Rose he has some fascinating suggestions and insights.

What drives trust?

Due to the benefits of cooperation, humans have learnt through evolution that affiliation is necessary. Humans are constantly testing their environment for affiliation by sharing their thoughts and opinions and challenges, and seeking to be accepted for who they are. If you are able to non-judgementally (I.e. suspend your ego) accept those thoughts, opinions and seek to understand them more, people will trust you.

So the key to developing trust with someone is

Understand who they are, where they have come from

Understand what their priorities are

Make yourself a resource for their priorities and prosperity: making their lives better in some way you control.

Cultivating trust

If you want to create an affiliation, make someone feel valued or start to gain someone’s tolerance (ie even if they are hostile) or trust, you have to do one or more of the following things:

1. Seek their thoughts and opinions. We only do this when we value some one and this demonstrates we value them

2. Talk in terms of their priorities

3. Validate them. Even when you disagree, seeking to understand their perspective is validation.

4. Empower them with choice, because we don’t give choice to people unless we value them

Try and build one or more of those into every interaction.

Developing Trust is 100% based on the other person, they have to trust at their own pace, and you have to focus 100% on them and not your own priorities.

Ways to develop and inspire trust in some one.

1. Suspend your ego. Its about them not you. Get over your self, your vanity, your title and your position.

2. Cultivate a happy healthy relationship – always try to foster this with every interaction

3. Open and honest communication to demonstrate transparency about your intentions.

4. Make yourself an available resource for their prosperity, with no expectation of reciprocity.

5. Exercise patience. If the situation does not allow for patience then focus on transparency.

How does this interact with your own goals?

Ie. If you want to convince someone to work with you on something or do something, how does it work if you are just focused on them as per the advice above?

Be very clear with yourself on what your own goals are beforehand. Label them and know them. Then let them go. Once you have clarity on the goal in your own head you don’t have to try hard to achieve it in the interactions. It will just pop up naturally because you know what your goal is. Once you have your goal clear you can then focus completely and genuinely on the other person.

Inspire don’t convince

People spend most of their lives trying to convince people of things, that something is in their best interests. Give up on that. You really can’t convince people of anything very successfully. Rather ask how can inspire people to want to do something.

If I am thinking of convincing you, I am thinking of myself. If I am thinking of inspiring you, I am thinking of you.

If I want to inspire some one I have to understand whats important to them and I have to have resources that I can make available to them to help them achieve it.

How do you have deep challenging conversations?

It depends on the relationship and it depends on your goal.

If there is unconditional trust and you are both vested in each other unconditionally (usually only possible with very close friends and colleagues where trust has been established) you can share open and honest thoughts about the world as long as you are not demonstrating judgement of their thoughts and opinions. However in many situations that level of trust does not exist and you need to be able to develop the trust in the situation to allow the challenging conversation to be heard.

If you don’t agree with someone and you want them to hear your opinion how do you go about it?

Humans have an incessant need to want to correct others. When you disagree, shields go up, and people try to convince you. Agreeing to disagree is not a solution, it ends in disagreement.

The worst thing to do is to tell them you don’t agree with them at all and tell them what you think.

The best way is to ask and genuinely seek to understand their perspective, “tell me what you think, let me understand it better”, and after they have shared their opinions with you, ask them to help you think about your perspective. Then present your perspective and ask for their thoughts and opinions about your perspective. Ie the focus remains on them.

Building trust with someone you have just met in a short time

1. Plan to be genuine and transparent. If there is and sense subterfuge or manipulation (which by definituon will be for your own well-bein, prospertiy or agenda) trust is lost in an instant. That sense of subterfuge is created by any incongruence between your actions and your words. To counter this your primary tool is transparency.

2. Do things to demonstrate an affiliation and commonality, it has to be truthful and accurate. Be thoughtful. Choose a location where the person will feel comfortable. What we wear, will it make them comfortable?

3. Validate a specifc (be as specific as possible) non-judgemental strength, attribute or action of the individual. Eg. “I learnt so much that I have applied in my own life from your book.” This must be completely true and honest, you are not sucking up to them. If you know of nothing else genuine to validaite, then can just acknowledge that their time is important. Specifically proscribe how much of their time you will take, create a time constraint (eg 30seconds, 30 minutes) and honour that commitment.

4. The next thing you say must be something that is important to them. Offer them something that is important to them in terms of their needs, wants or aspirations. If possible make sure you know what they are interested in or want before hand. If you don’t know anything but you need something from them, be open and honest about what you want and ask them about what is important to them and they want.

Creating common ground with someone:

Focus on any common experience or recent challenge. Eg. The weather.

Ask them about what challenges they face in their work, life… people will share their priorities in this sort of question.

Ask about their childhood, family traditions, everyone has family traditions so even if you have different backgrounds and traditions you create common ground.

Another potential motivator: We are genetically coded to want to provide assistance to others through our inbuilt principle of reciprocity. The likelihood of getting someone to do something is higher if they are providing assistance to someone else.

How do you ensure you are not perceived as manipulative?

Manipulators use broad stroke one liners “hey you did a great job last week”, they don’t have time, they are on a mission to take advantage and get what they want. People who are genuine take the time to dive down into the specifics. Demonstrating granularity demonstrates you took the time to understand them at a deep level as a human being.

How do you deal with toxic people or remove poison from a difficult relationship you have to deal with?

Depends on the situation.

Understand what they are trying to do. They may not understand what their own destination is. So if someone is unaware of their own impact ask them “what is it you are actually trying to achieve?” If they are clear, then “how is this helping you get there, and can I help you with that”

Many people have insecurities. When people have insecurities they may react by constantly shifting the goalposts purposefully or unconsciously to manipulate you to keep you emotionally highjacked. If you identify this, know that you are not going to get a different result engaging with them. Don’t allow yourself to be collateral damage to someone else’s insecurities. If you can identify what their specific insecurities are, then attempt to validate them in that specific area, because that will calm them down. That also gives you an understanding of their pain and what drives them. If that doesn’t work then aim to neutralise their impact on yourself and others around you. Mitigate their behaviour by attempting to not let their behaviour effect you emotionally. Ultimately know that it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Even when there is no trust eg. After a relationship has broken down, there are still “cause and effect actions” eg. What would you both agree on is any common end goal and work backwards and ask about whether some action will help achieve the final goal.

Building long term relationships and networks

If you honour this approach and leave people feeling better for having met you, then you don’t have to invest a lot of time to constantly keep the relationship up, you can pick it up when your priorities cross over again. This allows you to develop an ever increasing network, where every time you do touch, be thoughtful, make the engagement and touch point about them and not you, with no expectations and continue to build the trust and relationship.

Here is the link to the podcast

The code of trust from The Kevin Rose Show in Podcasts.

Health · Learning

Improving your swimming

If you are interested in trying out a different, very counter intuitive but pretty revolutionary approach to swimming try taking a look at Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion swimming. He is a passionate man, inspiring in his pursuit of mastery, and after listening to a podcast with him and watching some videos on YouTube I have have been inspired to give it a try, and the initial attempt was very interesting.

The basic idea is that the biggest change you can make in your swimming style to make it more effective (further, faster with less energy) is to reduce drag by making your swimming style more streamlined and smoother, and that requires some very counterintuitive actions that are different from our normal swimming style. He has produced incredible results in all sorts of swimmers from people who have never swim before all the way to Olympic athletes.

(There is an interesting general principle for life in the concept he applies here: instead of focusing on pushing harder to do better, is there something we can do to reduce the resistive forces/drag that is slowing us down. That might be much more effective and require less effort and energy than the former approach)

Unfortunately he has just recently passed away and the podcast is also a sobering reminder of the brevity of life, though it’s wonderful to see the legacy he leaves behind in revolutionising the way we think about swimming.

Demonstration of the style here Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion swimming demo

Lecture series by Terry here Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion intro lecture

Interview with Terry Loughlin by Tim Ferriss in Podcasts. Tim Ferris interview with Terry Laughlin on swimming and life

And their website Total Immersion

Learning · Psychology · Relationships

The psychology of liberal and conservative values and crossing the great divide

Picking up on a theme from the last blogpost: that one of the worst things for relationships is a great sense of self-righteousness, a lot of self-righteousness comes from our own sense of moral compass.

The world seems more and more polarised in political views. Are you liberal or conservative? Many of these views seem to be embedded deep within out moral frameworks and there seem to be few people attempting to cross the divide and understand the other side. This is an interesting podcast between Krista Tippett and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who has focused on the topic with some thoughts that might be applicable in many group dynamic situations. Here are my take-always:

“Moral foundation theory” trys to understand some of these psychological drivers in conservative or liberal leanings. Conservative and liberal leanings can, it seems, be defined by different sets of psychological values.

Moral judgements are based more on intuitions we grew up with, than on clear reason. They part of human nature that evolved in us from the groups or tribes we belong to and associate with.

Institutions and communities are becoming more and more polarised, media, think tanks, academic world and organisations often polarise towards one political leaning or the other. A large portion of what we see and hear (academia, the media and holywood) is dominated these days by the liberal agenda. So it’s possibly harder for liberals to understand conservative perspectives (liberals are happy to be open minded so long as not does not conflict with their the morals of open-mindedness that they cherish: “there is a certain kind of liberal that wants diversity in everything except thought”). That might be why it seems so inexplicable to many liberals that we had the outcome we did in the US elections and the UK Brexit vote (though I think Donald Trump is better described as populism than conservatism the Republican voters still vote for a set of conservative representatives.)

It is very seldom that we see people reaching across the divide between liberal and conservative and trying to really understand each other. Each side has a piece of the puzzle but they seldom see the other sides perspective.

What drives this?

Morality binds and blinds. Groups hang together and succeed due to cooperation around common moral values eg. Religion, politics. This is a function of evolution where group cooperation is rewarded.

So what are the driving morals and values in politics (and religion) that define either liberal or conservative tendancies? These may be over simplifications but they provide an interesting lens through which to view different groups’ arguments:

Both groups share two sets of common values: They believe and value fairness and compassion.

But when it comes to other values they have opposite beliefs: Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity are valued by conservatives, but liberals are skeptical of them.


  • value fairness, justice and compassion above all else.
  • They often represent the Party of Progress and Reform, openness to diversity.
  • Liberals on average are more inclined to reject authority, loyalty to others or ideas of sanctity. These represent to them the potential for the oppression, blind loyalty (nepotism) and injustice eg. Racism, sexism, abuse of power, the bad consequences of religious belief taken to an extreme.
  • Liberals tend to be universalist (care for all people) to a fault.
  • They are often more effective at getting fairness and justice within the group but less cohesive, due their egalitarian views: everyone’s views must count.


  • also value fairness and compassion. But the three additional values conservatives also value simultaneously with these:
  • loyalty – to family, community, associations; authority – they value stability, order and predictability, respect for authority; and sanctity – think the sanctity of religion, marriage etc.
  • Politically they are usually represented by the party of Stability and Order (think Theresa May’s “Strong and Stable”)
  • They can be parochial to a fault. (Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again”).
  • They are more effective at keeping a group together and making it operate more effectively because the value authority, leadership and structure.

Both are essential: the otherside also has a piece of the puzzle. Personally I see varying amounts of these two sides of my own personality in different situations eg. Work dynamics, home dynamics, church dynamics.

Few seem to cross over from one side to the other. So how could we help address and redress these imbalances, overcome impasses and see the other side?

  • Firstly knowledge is power. So having the above framework on moral drivers is a good starting place.
  • It is impossible often times to see the defects in our own moral matrix if it is so deeply engrained. To overcome this we need challenging exposures: Which is why exposure to different perspectives through travel, reading, podcasts are often so valuable. But its very difficult to overcome these inbuilt dynamics in any sort of inter-group conflict situation. Then the objective of the group usually becomes “defend our moral matrix, defeat theirs” because of the very deep seated beliefs and the limbic responses to these moral beliefs.
  • Diveristy is by nature divisive. What is the function of your group? If you group needs cohesion then you don’t want diversity. Celebrate commonality rather than emphasising difference.
  • If your group needs good clear thinking and you want people to challenge your prejudices then you do need diversity. (Particularly useful in investment decision making where you want to find the truth rather than follow someone’s biases)
  • In a politically charged encounter, start off with humility, acknowledge fault and praise the other side. The Power of Reciprocity requires the other side to match you. This is the power of apology.
  • Stop thinking about the message and arguement (eg trying to convince the other side you are right through superior argument, which seldom has any effect) start thinking more about the messenger: If you have someone or an alliance who you wouldn’t expect to say something, saying it, its much more powerful. Use unexpected validators. Eg. an oil barron talking positively about limiting climate change.
  • Build up the human relationships between the people you want to do the talking (especially over a meal, once you share a meal, there are deep psychological primal systems that come into play: its much more like you are family).
  • Be aware that we engage in reasoning and public debate not just for the purpose of finding the truth but for social purposes: to show our team or our audience that we are good team players or upholding a certain view. In a debate people may not be communicating with the other side as much as they are communicating with their own side.

Very interesting food for thought! Here is the podcast:

[On Being with Krista Tippett] Jonathan Haidt — The Psychology of self-righteousness via @PodcastAddict