Saturday, March 11, 2017

Inspirational Quote – March 11, 2017

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Being stuck in our ways feels very safe and reassuring to most of us doesn’t it? We know what to expect and how to respond or deal with it. No surprises there then, thank you very much! We often resist change, insisting that the old way of doing things worked just fine so why not just carry on? Why muddy the water? However, isn’t it occasionally wonderful when new opportunities come along and pries us loose from our comfort zone? So, instead of clinging like limpets to the rock of same old, same old, just let go and swim off into unknown but adventurous waters. How exciting to swim while anticipating reaching a hitherto unexplored shore and discovering all the wonders it has in store for you.

Shai Reshef: The Man Educating the World

After his retirement, educational entrepreneur Shai Reshef felt nagging questions: "What if everyone could go to university? What if education was a human right?" He "set about bringing together volunteer tutors, low-tech open-source software and the internet to create the world's first tuition-free online, accredited university....Today University of the People (UoPeople) has enrolled students from 160 countries, including Vietnam, Sudan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Haiti, and features widespread support and volunteering from blue-chip institutions such as Yale University, Oxford University, New York University, The Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. UoPeople even has 1.2 million followers on Facebook, ranking it the second most followed university, just behind Harvard. Reshef is now taking the first steps to bringing US-accredited degrees to the masses." He has no plans to stop until all the people are served.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Why Don’t We Prepare Enough for Disasters?

By Jill Suttie

A new book outlines the psychological biases that get in the way of good decision-making—and what to do about them.

In February, a large section of California’s Oroville Dam spillway collapsed due to heavy winter rains, threatening communities below with potentially devastating floods. Later, news agencies reported that the government was aware of the weaknesses of the dam but never took steps to correct them. They simply ignored the potential risks, hoping they’d never be faced with a scenario like the one that unfolded.
Why do so many of us hide our heads in the sand when faced with the possibility of a catastrophic future event?
Mount Sinabung volcano in IndonesiaMount Sinabung volcano in Indonesia
It all comes down to our psychological biases, according to The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters, a new book written by Wharton School professors Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther. When considering issues like climate change, the effects of automation on jobs, or how to save for retirement, we tend to focus on the wrong things, use the wrong kind of reasoning, and ultimately make ourselves vulnerable to disaster.
Meyer’s and Kunreuther’s book is a quick and easy read distilling what science has uncovered about the ways we make decisions, especially under risky circumstances, and how we can make better ones.

Six biases that put us in danger

Thanks to the well-publicized work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, many of us know by now that we are governed by two cognitive systems: one that is more automated and drives instinctual decisions—like quickly moving away from danger—and another that involves more considered thought and drives deliberate decisions—like deciding what house to buy. These work in concert so that we can move through everyday life without having to deliberate every single thing we do.
But these systems also have their downsides.
One is that they are less useful when we are confronted with unpredictable problems that are unfamiliar to us, require complex analyses, or are unlikely to occur except in the distant future. In these cases, we tend to rely on six biases that can lead us to misperceive our situation and potentially take wrong action (or avoid action altogether). These are nicely described in The Ostrich Paradox, as follows:
  • Myopia: The tendency to focus more on the short-term costs than the future potential benefits of investments.
  • Amnesia: The tendency to forget the lessons of past disasters.
  • Optimism: The tendency to underestimate the likelihood of future hazards.
  • Inertia: The tendency to maintain the status quo or adopt the default option when uncertain about the future benefits of investing now.
  • Simplification: The tendency to selectively consider only certain factors when making choices involving risk.
  • Herding: The tendency to follow the “wisdom” of the crowd.
In their book, Meyer and Kunreuther describe in more detail how each of these biases might function in the real world. For example, myopia can make a politician decide not to use current funds to strengthen a dam that is in danger of collapsing if there is a catastrophic amount of rain—a scenario being played out currently in California with the Oroville Dam. It’s easy in hindsight to see that repairs to the dam should have been done; but myopia—and perhaps optimism and inertia—led planners to forego preparations in advance to head off that disaster. This is not dissimilar to what happens in decisions regarding climate change, and may result in a future calamity. 

Why would we tend to be myopic in this regard? Part of it has to do with how our brains work. When we are faced with immediate versus long-term rewards, most of us will go for the immediate rewards, because doing so releases a cascade of feel-good hormones. Similarly, if taking action now to prevent a future disaster involves a difficult hurdle—such as bureaucratic red tape or high financial, social, or political costs—we will tend to focus on the immediate (avoiding public resistance to increased taxes) versus the future (preventing a catastrophe).
The authors also point to research uncovering how these biases unfold in the lab and in the world. For example, they cite a study in which researchers found that Queenslanders did not make decisions about buying insurance based on the apparent risks of disaster, but based on the social norms around buying insurance—a seemingly irrational choice reflecting the herding bias. Similarly, in a lab simulation, the authors found that how much a participant was willing to invest in structural improvements designed to protect against earthquake damage was mostly related to how much their “neighbors” in the simulation spent.

How to overcome your biases (and stay safe)

Luckily, the authors also have some ideas of how people can better manage their biases to make better decisions. One idea detailed in the book is what they call a “behavioral risk audit”—a tool for anticipating biases that may arise when individuals or organizations need to think about the risks that disasters and hazards pose to them and their community. With these biases in mind, we can better anticipate what might get in the way of successful interventions and tweak them accordingly so they’re more successful.
<em><a href=“”>The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters</a></em> (Wharton Digital Press, 2017, 132 pages)The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters (Wharton Digital Press, 2017, 132 pages)
In other words, it’s best if decision makers don’t prepare for future consequences only by looking at objective risks and vulnerabilities. Instead, planners should be encouraged “to think first about how individuals in hazard-prone areas are likely to perceive risks and why they might not adopt different preparedness measures.” In that way, planners can better nudge people toward more acceptable remedies for their situation.
For example, consider people who live in flood-prone areas but don’t want to buy high-cost flood insurance. The authors suggest fighting myopia by spreading out the costs of insurance over time through long-term loans, and reducing amnesia by rewarding insurance buyers with yearly rebates for having no flood claims. They also recommend communicating risk in ways that fight the optimism bias—like letting people know there is a 1 in 5 risk of high flooding in their community rather than saying there’s a 1 in 100 chance of their house being damaged in a flood.
Of course, biases aren’t the only things to consider when planning for long-term risks. The authors suggest that policymakers and the public adopt other guiding principles that may lead to better preparation for our future: committing to long-term protective planning as a major priority, committing to policies that discourage individual and community actions that increase their exposure to long-term risks, and committing to addressing problems equitably.
The challenge is how to get the public to adopt these principles, and the authors don’t have a lot to offer on this front. But they hope that by understanding some of our cognitive biases and ideas of how to manage them, planners and policymakers will have a better chance of engaging people to take action to minimize risks and make all of our futures brighter.
“If we as a society are to commit ourselves to reducing future losses from natural and man-made disasters in the truly long run, we need to do more than hope that individuals and policymakers will see wisdom in these investments on their own,” they write.
Hopefully, the awareness of these biases is a move in the right direction.

Inspirational Quote – March 10, 2017

“A good life is when you assume nothing, need less, do more, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot, and realize how blessed you are for what you have.”

That certainly sums up the life we should all be leading or striving to lead. How wonderful and blessed are we if it we are already fortunate enough to be living by the words of this quote. I hope I am. I know I do my best to live up to it although, to be honest, it’s easier to do some days than others, but that’s ok, I’ve at least got the message. In our busy, occasionally demanding, day to day lives it is so easy to forget how blessed we are just to be alive, hopefully fit and well, and with love in our lives. We truly are blessed compared to many in this poor, beleaguered world of ours. Make sure you take time out now and again just to be thankful.

A Call to Revolutionary Love

Valarie Kaur has lived the radical lessons of love that she shares as "an American interfaith leader, lawyer, filmmaker, Sikh activist, and founder of The Revolutionary Love Project based at the University of Southern California." She knows the sting of losing friends as a child because of her religion. She knows the trauma of losing a beloved family friend who was killed in a hate-crime in the aftermath of 9/11 . Even so, she chooses to love because as she says, "love is the only thing I have ever seen to create lasting change." This is the challenge she presents to each of us in this time of confusion and fear. Radical love isn't always comfortable or easy, but it offers a path forward for the courageous.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why Storytelling Skills Matter for African-American Kids

By Nicole Gardner-Neblett

For African-American students, storytelling skills directly predict their early reading skills.

Children begin telling stories as young as age two or three. And they continue to develop storytelling skills in their interaction with parents and others who provide guidance and feedback.
The ability to tell a coherent and well-developed narrative may be important for children’s literacy development. However, most of the studies on children’s storytelling and reading skills have been conducted with samples of middle-class white children.
To address this gap in the research, my colleague Iheoma Iruka and I studied data of children from different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups from across the United States.
What we found surprised us.

Storytelling among African-American children

For our research, we used national data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a study of about 14,000 children born in the United States in 2001, that examined their development, school readiness, and early school experiences. We focused on 6,150 children who were identified as African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and European American.
To understand the role that storytelling skills play in the link between language and early literacy, we used data from when children were two years old until they were five years old.
When the children were two years old, parents were asked to describe their children’s language abilities. Later, when children were four years old, their storytelling skills were measured by asking them to retell stories they had just heard a researcher tell them. At five years old, children were given an assessment of their early literacy.
For most racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups of children, we found that children who had better language skills as toddlers did better on the literacy assessment when they were five years old.
But when we looked at how storytelling plays a role between early language and early literacy, we found that when it came to African-American children, it made a big difference. For these children, the higher their storytelling scores, the better they did on the early literacy assessment. Interestingly, it didn’t make a difference for the other groups.

What this study tells us

Storytelling skills may be less important for the early literacy skills of most children. But for African-American children, these skills seem to be important for early literacy in a way that may not be true of other children.
We also know from other research that, from early on, African-American children tell stories that are vivid, elaborate, and rich in imagery. The quality of stories produced by African-American children has been found to be on par with or exceed that of stories told by their white peers. Other studies find that African-American children have a wide repertoire of storytelling styles, which they use flexibly depending on the context.
The strong storytelling skills of African-American children may stem from the cultural and historic influences that have fostered a preference for orality among African Americans.
All this should lead us to believe that African-American kids, with their strong storytelling skills, should do better with their reading skills. However, we know that African-American children are failing to learn basic reading skills. A nationwide test of reading achievement showed that four out of five African-American fourth graders failed to achieve competency in reading in 2013.
So, why are African-American children not performing better in reading? More research is needed, but possible explanations suggest that the low-quality schools many of these kids go to end up having a negative impact on their reading skills. In addition, many of these kids may have language skills that differ from those expected at school.

Why does storytelling matter?

For most other kids, studies suggest that storytelling skills may show their influence when children are older.
And that could be because storytelling uses “decontextualized” language. Decontextualized language differs from conversational or contextualized language in that decontextualized language functions independently from the immediate context or shared knowledge between listeners and the storyteller.
As children tell stories, they gain practice in using the same type of language that is used in written text, which can help them as they learn to read.
While teachers and parents have been told to read books to children to support their language and literacy development, encouraging children to tell stories as a way to support language and literacy has received less attention.
So, what can teachers and parents do?
Many schools have a “show-and-tell” time that can allow children a chance to practice storytelling skills as they share information about a valued object. As teachers and peers ask questions, they can facilitate children’s storytelling skills.
Parents and teachers can also model storytelling for children by sharing their own experiences, in the form of a story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and addresses the questions of who, what, where, when, and why. Using props like wordless books, puppets, dolls, and photographs may also help children in developing stories.
While learning to tell stories can be useful for all children, this skill may be most needed for those at risk of achieving reading competency.

Inspirational Quote – March 09, 2017

“Those who dance….are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.”

This reminds me of the reaction I occasionally still get when I tell people I am a professional Tarot and Angel Card Reader. The roll of the eyes, the backing away ever so slightly, the “hmmm, really?” . Some even look prepared to make the sign of the cross while backing away! They just don’t “get” or hear the “music” that I do when I am working with my beautiful cards. I realize I am very fortunate in being able to use my cards in order to bring answers, guidance or resolution for people in who come to me and, as such, being “tuned in” to the music of the Universe. Such a pity we’re not all able to be “tuned” into the same channel don’t you think?

Liz Mitten Ryan: One With The Herd

In 1999 Liz Mitten Ryan, award-winning artist, mother of six and founder of a successful fine art publishing company in Vancouver, moved with her architect husband, and a herd of eleven horses, to Gateway 2 Ranch -- a 320-acre slice of paradise nestled in the grasslands of British Columbia. For over a decade now, Liz has facilitated "Equinisity Retreats" on this magnificent land. Coined by her husband Kevin, the word 'equinisity' means "the gift of finding the unexpected and truly meaningful perspective through the clear and almost 360 degree vision of the equine." People from all over the world come to these retreats, which run from April through November of each year. They are exposed to Liz's way of working with the horses, an approach that depends not on pressure and punishment, but on the far more subtle, and stunningly effective powers of invitation, intention and focus. These unique healing retreats also offer opportunities for individuals and the horses and other animals to interact in unstructured, spontaneous ways, often times with extraordinary results. Read more about Liz's journey and watch the trailer of "Herd" an award-winning film on her work.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Are Women More Ethical Than Men?

By Laura Kray, Gillian Ku, Jessica Kennedy

New research explores how men and women think about moral decisions—and how women’s voices can benefit business and society.

In 2008, Sallie Krawcheck was CEO of the Global Wealth Management division at Citigroup. Her company sold clients what Citigroup firmly believed were low-risk investments. After these investments unexpectedly lost most of their value in the market downturn, Krawcheck felt that Citigroup should offer its clients partial refunds. 
Her position, at odds with that of her boss and the rest of the management team, led to a lengthy debate within the company that culminated in her dismissal.
In an NPR interview, Krawcheck recalled, “If you’d asked me at that point in time, ‘Sallie, did you get fired because you’re a woman?’ I would have said, ‘What, are you kidding me? Absolutely not.’” 
Sallie KrawcheckSallie KrawcheckFlickr / TechCrunch / CC BY 2.0
However, as time went on, her answer transitioned to, as she now says, “Well, maybe.”
Sallie Krawcheck’s experience is a high-profile example of what many businesswomen discover early in their careers—often as early as business school: Many of the underlying values and tactics of the business world, while in line with traditionally masculine values, are antithetical to the way women think.
The prevailing message to women in Western society is that if you want to succeed, act more like men. There is an assumption that success means being more aggressive, in control of emotions, and strategic and calculating in your decisions. Getting ahead often means doing whatever it takes, even if you’re acting unethically.
As researchers and teachers of negotiations and leadership with over 40 years of combined experience, we believe that this message is misguided. In fact, women bring unique strengths to the negotiating table—strengths that the prevailing masculine paradigm prevent us from seeing.

What kind of people do women want to be?

Negotiation science tells us that crafting “win-win” solutions requires good-faith negotiating that is characterized by courageous and accurate self-disclosures, curious questions, and optimal trade-offs between competing demands. These success-promoting actions are aided by a firm commitment to seeking mutually beneficial solutions; in other words, a moral perspective that values all parties’ interests and not just self-interest.
What does that have to do with women? Our research suggests that they are, quite simply, better at creating value through collaborative exchanges.
In a recent paper published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, three studies examined how women and men would react to opportunities to act deceptively in exchange for financial gain.
In one study, participants read a negotiation scenario, which provided the possibility for negotiating deceptively. Specifically, participants were asked to imagine that they were selling their used car, which had a minor (missing fuel cap) and a larger (intermittent transmission) problem. Participants needed to decide whether they would reveal the problems to a potential Craigslist buyer.
Women reported greater commitment to negotiating “in good faith” and “in a completely honest and trustworthy manner” with the buyer, relative to men. Women were also less inclined to rationalize unethical behavior by endorsing statements such as, “If the buyer is as ignorant as a rock, it is ok to let them suffer the consequences,” or “People don’t mind being misled in used-car negotiations because it’s part of the game.”
These findings are consistent with a great deal of prior research that has found women to have higher, more steadfast ethical standards and to act more ethically than men in a variety of behavioral realms.
To understand why these gender differences might emerge, we considered the important psychological variable of identity.
Identity is an individual’s personal story about the kind of person he or she hopes to be. We looked specifically at moral identity, the tendency to conceptualize oneself in terms of moral traits such as fair, honest, generous, and kind. Analyzing data from 33 independent studies with over 19,000 people in aggregate, we found a moderate gender difference in moral identity that is on par with the average effect size uncovered in psychological research. Women identified with moral traits more strongly than did men.

How to think like a woman

Is Krawcheck’s story about gender—or is it simply about a difference of opinion about management philosophy?
Certainly, Krawcheck and others involved felt the latter at the time. In fact, while covering Krawcheck’s dismissal for the New York Times, journalist Geraldine Fabrikant noted:
In an era when the executive suite is still dominated by men, it’s tempting to attribute Ms. Krawcheck’s downfall to the ruthless vagaries of the glass ceiling. As it turns out, however, her departure from Citigroup was largely the result of an old-fashioned corporate bar brawl.
A bar brawl it may have been, but even so it was a fight between two very different opponents, one focused on bottom-line profit and one focused on taking the perspective of all parties to the deal. One exhibits characteristically masculine traits—while the other is characteristically feminine.
For starters, Krawcheck had approached the situation assuming that the ultimate goal was to obtain a fair resolution for both sides, as doing so was consistent with the Golden Rule and also more likely to bring return business. Also, she felt her company had a moral obligation to return some of the money its clients had invested with them in good faith.
Her male bosses felt differently: They were single-minded in their pursuit of the company’s profits, and their views prevailed. Krawcheck knew she wasn’t dismissed for being a woman but instead for thinking like one.
But doesn’t this example confirm that a moral perspective is a weakness rather than a strength?
It may be—but only in situations where women are in the minority. We contend that the key to transmuting the risk of a moral perspective is strength in numbers. Just like low-ranking female primates band together to temper dominant behaviors in males, women can be empowered by working together.
A perfect example of the power inherent to female coalitions occurred in the United States in the autumn of 2013. The U.S. government was in big trouble: Unable to work together to approve the budget, the Senate had thrown the country into crippling shutdown. Frustrated by the gridlock, Maine’s Republican senator, Susan Collins, designed a three-point plan toward compromise and quickly enlisted New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, both also Republicans, to work out the plan. Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland and Patty Murray of Washington soon joined the group, and even in the face of ideological differences and debates, they were able to work together to craft a compromise.
Senator Susan Collins told the New York Times, “Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way.” Republican and Democratic senators alike acknowledged the role that women’s penchant for collaboration played in the eleventh-hour agreement that was finally reached. The Senate “lab test” demonstrates the very real power that women have to achieve results using a relational, moral, collaborative mindset.
Individually, women have the benefit of being more moral. Together, women have the power to positively influence a variety of societal situations, above and beyond the political.

How environment shapes morality

Where do gender differences in moral identity come from? Rather than reflecting fundamentally different essences, they are very likely a product of our environments, which can and do change.
While our meta-analytic evidence suggests the gender difference in moral identity is robust, we also find clear evidence that it fluctuates and sometimes even disappears entirely, depending on the situation. To this point, it is important to note that situational pressures can mitigate women’s ethical advantages.
For instance, in another study, we charged participants with negotiating with a new recruit. The new recruit cared about job stability, but unbeknownst to the recruit, the position could not offer this attribute and was not a genuine fit. Participants secretly knew that the job would be restructured in six months. The critical question was whether participants would lie to the new recruit in order to hire the person at a lower salary.
Unsurprisingly, given our other research, women were less likely than men to lie to the new recruit—but in this study, there was a twist: Given a financial incentive to lie, women did so just as often as men.
Prior research has shown that financial incentives dampen the degree to which people conceive of themselves as moral persons. Instead, financial incentives cue other identities, suggesting that people should aim to be, say, a successful person, or a smart person, not a moral person.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem was once asked whether she felt women were mentally and psychologically prepared to step into top leadership positions in business and beyond, and she immediately responded, “I hope not.” Steinem then laughed and explained, “It’s not about integrating into a not-so-good system. It’s about transforming it and making it better. If women have to acquire all the characteristics of a corporate world, it’s probably not worth it.”
Taken together, our research reveals a powerful strength that women often bring to the table, one that could help us properly question the status quo. Our current world consistently values masculine attributes over feminine ones, and, by doing so, contributes to our collective detriment. Women’s morality has the potential to channel conversations in a more “ethically sustainable” direction. Through recognizing the values that women bring to the table, a new culture could be created—one where a woman doesn’t get fired for asking her colleagues to consider making an investment to preserve long-term relationships with clients who felt misled; she gets applauded!
Sallie Krawcheck now believes that the debate she instigated within her company was a healthy and productive one, supportive of a diversity of experience that Wall Street needs more than it needs another quantitative analyst with an Ivy League degree. Krawcheck subsequently held other high-powered positions on Wall Street and went on to purchase 85 Broads, a large and powerful women’s professional global networking group, which she rebranded the Ellevate Network. Recently, Ellevate launched an investment fund made up of companies exhibiting strong gender diversity: 31 percent of board seats and 24 percent of senior management positions at the fund’s 400 companies are held by women.
“There is something inherent in diversity of thinking, of experience and of background, and indeed of skin color and gender—there is something in that diversity that leads to innovation, better returns, lower risk,” says Krawcheck. These are qualities we need to claim not just for women, but for all of business, and for all of humanity.