Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire

Presenting Facts Can Sometimes Backfire People tend to have contempt for ideas that they disagree with. What’s worse is the possibility that some people, when presented with information that goes against their beliefs, may not only snub their challengers, but also double down on their original viewpoints. Cognitive psychologists call this the backfire effect.

For instance, voters have been shown to judge the political candidate they support even more favorably after the candidate is attacked by the other party. In the same way, parents opposed to vaccinations have been shown to become more convinced of their alleged apprehension that vaccination causes autism after reviewing studies showing that vaccinating their kids is the best course of action.

The backfire effect explains why, when people argue against conflicting information strongly enough, they wind up with more supportive arguments for their cause, which further aligns them with their preexisting positions.

The backfire effect is related to confirmation bias—the rampant propensity to seek, interpret, synthesize, and recall information in a way that substantiates one’s preconceptions. For instance, when people read an article that describes both sides of an issue, they tend to select that side that they happen to agree with—thus reinforcing their viewpoints.

See also: the phenomenon of group polarization explains why people who share opinions and beliefs get together in groups, they tend to be even more persuaded in their beliefs.

Think in Terms of Habits & Systems Rather Than Goals

Effective Goals Can Challenge, Motivate, and Energize

Most folks fail to understand how goals work: goals don’t stipulate behaviors.

Goals relate only to the outcomes and results of specific behaviors—they are not about the actions and behaviors that can bring about those results.

In other words, goals can only provide direction and can even impel you onward in the short-term, but ultimately, a well-designed system—when put into habitual practice—will always prevail.

'The Power of Habit' by Charles Duhigg (ISBN 081298160X) Developing a system is what matters to discipline and self-control. Committing to the process is what makes the difference. As New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg wrote in his bestselling The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2012,) only a systematic approach works:

Habits are powerful, but delicate. They can emerge outside our consciousness or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize—they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

An example of a goal: “I want to lose 10 pounds before my sister’s wedding.” A habit/system would be, “What dieting and exercising changes can I make with the aim of looking better at my sister’s wedding?”

Another example of a goal: “How do I amass $1 million before I turn 35?” A habit/system would be, “How do I develop financial disciplines and investment methods to get richer over time and achieve a net worth of $1 million by the time I’m 35?”

Idea for Impact: Only by creating habits and systems to achieve goals can you live more of the life you aspire to. As a creature of habit, when you are doing something that is routine, you don’t need to be deliberately engaged in the task in the same way as if you were doing something that is not habitual.

Inspirational Quotations #702

The greedy man is incontinent with a whole world set before him.
Sa’Di (Musharrif Od-Din Muslih Od-Din)

One’s true character is most transparent when placed in a position of power.

There is a proper balance between not asking enough of oneself and asking or expecting too much.
May Sarton

It’s easy to have principles when you’re rich. The important thing is to have principles when you’re poor.
Ray Kroc

Life is what we make it, and the world is what we make it. The eyes of the cheerful and of the melancholy man are fixed upon the same creation; but very different are the aspects which it bears to them.
Albert Pike

Many of us spend our lives searching for success when it is usually so close that we can reach out and touch it.
Russell Conwell

Better is a handful of quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind.
The Holy Bible

A friend is a person who knows all about you but likes you anyway.

The highest form of Grace is silence.
Swami Chinmayananda

If you’ve been beaten up in Rounds 1-9, it’s hard to come out for Round 10.
Marty Nemko

Every organization should tolerate rebels who tell the emperor he has no clothes.
Colin Powell

Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.
Alan Watts

We have a tendency to romanticize independence. Most business literature still views autonomy as a virtue, as though communication, teamwork, and cooperation were lesser values.
Keith Ferrazzi

If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.
Nachman of Breslov

A wise man in the company of those who are ignorant, has been compared to a beautiful girl in the company of blind men.
Sa’Di (Musharrif Od-Din Muslih Od-Din)

There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Man maintains his balance, poise, and sense of security only as he is moving forward.
Maxwell Maltz

The Power of Counterintuitive Thinking

“The All-embracing quality of the great virtue follows alone from the Tao … Only with Tao can follow the right path,” wrote Laozi in Tao Te Ching.

Translated roughly as “the way of integrity,” the Tao Te Ching is mostly a work of maxims of varying length; but it frequently quotes traditional poems, songs, and hymns.

'Tao Te Ching' by Stephen Mitchell (ISBN 0061142662) While the normative meaning of the word ‘Tao’ is just “path” or “way,” the text’s dominant theme is the spirit or quality of mind one needs to cultivate.

Here’s a verse from Tao Te Ching that advocates the power of counterintuitive thinking:

A good soldier is never aggressive;
A good fighter is never angry.
The best way of conquering an enemy
Is to win him over by not antagonizing him.
The best way of employing a man
Is to serve under him.
This is called the virtue of non-striving!
This is called using the abilities of men!
This is called being wedded to Heaven as of old!

Why They Don’t Understand You

Have you ever left a conversation or a meeting and felt that you weren’t heard—let alone understood? Do you tend to get blank stares from people as you are talking with them, as if you are speaking a foreign tongue?

Here are things you can do to help people understand you.

  1. Get your thinking straight. Cluttered thoughts nurture confusing communication. Think of the best ways to convey your message to the audience that you’re targeting. Prepare. Organize. Practice.
  2. How to Speak Confidently in Meetings Keep your messages succinct and simple. The more words you use to make a point, the more confusing the point can be. Get to the point quickly and don’t beat around the bush. Be concise without being boring or terse.
  3. Keep your communications focused. Prepare your message. Stick to your objective. Get rid of anything unrelated or irrelevant to your objective.
  4. Master the vernacular. Speak the same language of the industry, company, and team. Insider-lingo not only promotes a sense of belonging to the “crowd,” but can also help to get your concepts across more clearly.
  5. Speak their language. If you have a chance, listen to comparable meetings and observe how folks communicate. What are their hot buttons? What interests them? What are their objectives? What is their line of questioning? Try to adapt your arguments by aligning up your points with things they care about: their hot buttons and their pet topics.
  6. Customize the communication. Some people are visual learners, others respond best to arguments in long-winded, written form. Some like analogies better; others prefer concepts discussed directly. Determine how the people you are communicating with operate—you may have to present your data and information in a variety of formats. Other times people like to hear stories, so tell your information in a story format. Bring some props, prototypes, and samples.
  7. Rally some supporters. Determine the key opinion leaders and speak to them individually before the meeting. They will also let you know how they feel about it, which could influence others in the meeting. You can count on their support to your arguments and avoid surprise reactions and disagreements. If you get their support, chances are that you will get the support of others. (The management consulting firm McKinsey calls this “pre-wiring.”)
  8. Don’t broach details straight away. Avoid being too technical or precise unless the audience is geared up. Start with broad strokes to see if your audience understands you. Only when they are following you, introduce the complexity and detail.
  9. Portray yourself as a knowledgeable professional. Avoid stating fact with qualifiers like “I think” or “in my opinion.” Avoid slang and filler words such as “uh,” “uhm,” “like,” and “you know”—excessive use of filler words tends to make you seem mumbling, hesitant, and unintelligent.
  10. Be sincere. If you don’t know something, say so. Avoid losing your credibility or bringing into question your insight, experience, or impetus. If cannot answer a question you’ve been asked, don’t fake the funk. Say, “I don’t know the answer at this time, but I will get back to you.”
  11. 'Speak Like a CEO' by Suzanne Bates (ISBN 1260117480) Disagree tactfully. Think before you voice your own opinion: Will you be able to justify it? When preparing for the conversation, list all your arguments and ask a likely challenger to lay out the possible counterarguments. Try to incorporate those contentions into your arguments.
  12. Be confident but don’t brag. Frequently, when people try to be confident and persuasive in a presentation, they end up being boastful. While there’s nothing wrong with demonstrating a bit of complacency, it’s best to cast that boast in terms a benefit to the customer. For instance, saying just “I have 10 years of experience in this field” is a boast. In its place, say, “I have 10 years of experience in this field. I can assure you that any problems that arise will be handled promptly and competently.”
  13. Don’t try excessively to get them to see your point of view. Don’t persist too hard to get them to understand you. Know how hard to push your point and when to back off.
  14. Get feedback. After the meeting, don’t hesitate to ask a sympathetic member of the audience how you did. What did the audience get from the conversation? How could they better understand you in the future? By asking these questions, you will have a much better chance of connecting with them in the future. Plus, by asking the questions you have shown to them that you care about them understanding. And that helps build the relationships.

Idea for Impact: Good speaking isn’t about demonstrating your vocabulary, intelligence, or talent. It’s about communicating your message effectively.

Incentives Matter

Incentives are Powerful Extrinsic Motivators

Incentives are Powerful Extrinsic Motivators The bedrock premise of economics is that incentives matter. This is a powerful device because it applies to almost everything that humans do.

Changes in incentives—monetary and nonmonetary—can sway human behavior in foreseeable ways.

For instance, if a resource becomes more expensive or scarce, people will be less likely to choose it. Higher prices will reduce the quantity of goods sold. Fewer people visit outdoor recreational areas on chilly and rainy days. Whenever fuel prices soar through the roof over a prolonged period, consumers buy less gasoline—they eliminate less important trips, carpool more, and purchase fuel-efficient cars.

Incentives Shape Behavior

If the payback from a specific choice increases, people are more likely to choose it. Students focus in classes when their professors declare what course material will be on the examinations. Pedestrians are more prone to leaning down and picking up a quarter than they would a penny. Traditional incentive systems for executives give rise to corporate “short-termism”—executives’ annual bonuses are often awarded for achieving targets that are insubstantially linked to long-term value creation.

Incentives shape behavior. The economics of wrongdoing and crime suggest that fines be increased to offset the rewards from lawbreaking—for example, traffic fines for speeding are typically doubled in construction zones. Ryanair, Ireland’s pioneering discount airline, purposefully uses exasperating fees for checked bags, airport check-ins, and printing boarding passes to “reshape passenger behavior” and focus on getting passengers punctually to their destinations with the least overhead costs.

Incentives Can Backfire Even If Launched with the Best of Intentions

Incentives Can Backfire Even If Launched with the Best of Intentions The “incentives matter” framework of economics explains why bad behavior happens whenever the payoff for such behavior is high and the odds of getting caught and reprimanded are low.

People will scheme—even perpetrate fraud—to achieve the incentives they’re offered. If targets are impracticable and employees realize that they can achieve those targets by cheating, then they will cheat.

Incentive structures are partially to blame for the recent Wells Fargo accounts scandal. Even if Wells Fargo established incentive arrangements with the best of intentions, it tied a substantial percentage of employee compensation to immoderate sales targets. This compelled employees to open millions of sham bank accounts and credit cards in customers’ names, infringing on their trust, and costing them millions of dollars in fees for services they did not willingly sign-up for. As this case makes obvious, incentives intended to stimulate people to do their best can sometimes push them to do their worst.

Idea for Impact: A Little Incentive Goes a Long Way

Incentives matter. They influence choices that humans make. Changes in incentives influence their choices. However, designing effective incentives is a painstakingly difficult problem. Do not underestimate or ignore potential undesired results—increase in dishonest behavior, over-focus on one area while overlooking other parts of the business, imprudent risk-taking, deterioration of organizational culture, and diminished intrinsic motivation.

Inspirational Quotations #701

For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
Viktor Frankl

Trouble shared is trouble halved.
Dorothy L. Sayers

A good conversationalist is not one who remembers what was said, but says what someone wants to remember.
John Mason Brown

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.
Thich Nhat Hanh

What I cannot create, I do not understand.
Richard Feynman

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
Bill Veeck

As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.
Clarence Darrow

Love has a way of finding you when you stop seeking it and start being it.
Mastin Kipp

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.
Sa’Di (Musharrif Od-Din Muslih Od-Din)

It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life. The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated… it is finished when it surrenders.
Ben Stein

In all your gettings, get wisdom.

Appreciative words are the most powerful force for good on earth!
George W. Crane

Bullets cannot be recalled. They cannot be uninvented. But they can be taken out of the gun.
Martin Amis

What a grand thing it is to be clever and have common sense.

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.
Nelson Mandela

He who is aware of his folly is wise.
Yiddish Proverb

To be a critic is easier than to be an author.
Hebrew Proverb

You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.
Zig Ziglar

Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.
Vince Lombardi

A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.
Fred Allen

Seek Fame by Associating with the Famous?

Dale Carnegie (1888–1955,) the author of the perennial self-help best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People, wasn’t related to the Scottish-American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919.)

However, Dale Carnegie changed the spelling of his last name from “Carnagey” at a time when Andrew Carnegie was a widely recognized name.

Dale Carnegie was born Dale Carnagay on a Missouri farm. After trying his luck as a salesman and as a failed actor, Carnagay moved to New York and began teaching public speaking at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA.) His courses got popular and, in time, Carnagay opened his own office in the Carnegie House, adjacent to the famous Carnegie Hall, which is named after Andrew Carnegie, who funded its construction.

Shrewd marketing indeed!

Death to Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy can suck the life out of any organization by rewarding complacency and inertia.

Efficient managers are annoyed with the speed of bureaucracy. Internal rules and policies for making and approving decisions slow down managerial undertakings. In a world where fast, disruptive innovation has become foremost, any company can ill afford the time or expense of operating with bureaucratic mindsets.

Peter Ferdinand Drucker, the father of management theory Management pioneer Peter Drucker‘s enduring condemnation of bureaucracy, formalities, and rules and regulations hit the peak with his ground-breaking editorial called “Sell the Mailroom,” first published in the Wall Street Journal in 1989 and then republished in 2005.

At a time when the great majority of businesses were engaged in making an effort to improve the efficiency of support staff, Drucker brashly advocated that bureaucratic support should be eliminated by outsourcing their work to outside contractors. Drucker observed,

In-house service and support activities are de facto monopolies. They have little incentive to improve their productivity. There is, after all, no competition. In fact, they have considerable disincentive to improve their productivity. In the typical organization, business or government, the standard and prestige of an activity is judged by its size and budget—particularly in the case of activities that, like clerical, maintenance, and support work, do not make a direct and measurable contribution to the bottom line. To improve the productivity of such an activity is thus hardly the way to advancement and success. When in-house support staff are criticized for doing a poor job, their managers are likely to respond by hiring more people. An outside contractor knows that he will be tossed out and replaced by a better-performing competitor unless he improves quality and cuts costs.

Idea for Impact: Drop unnecessary work.

How to Learn Anything Fast: Book Summary of Josh Kaufman’s ‘The First 20 Hours’

Every Discipline, Hobby, or Sport Has Its Learning Curve

'The First 20 Hours' by Josh Kaufman (ISBN 1591846943) One of your core productivity principles should be to learn to do things to a good-enough level—but not to perfection.

In the pursuit of self-improvement, when you start to study a field, it seems like you have to learn hundreds of principles and skills. If you’re interested in no more than gaining an adequate amount of fluency in any skill, you have only to identify the crucial few core principles, learn them, and diligently practice them “in the trenches.”

According to self-described “learning addict” Josh Kaufman‘s The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast, with a bit of strategy, you can learn just about any skill to a sufficient level with twenty hours of focused effort:

In my experience, it takes around twenty hours of practice … to go from knowing absolutely nothing about what you’re trying to do to performing noticeably well. … It doesn’t matter whether you want to learn a language write a novel, paint a portrait, start a business, or fly an airplane. If you invest as little as twenty hours in learning the basics of the skill, you’ll be surprised at how good you can become.

Learning is Fun but it is also Dedicated Work

One of the real challenges for rapid skill acquisition, according to The First 20 Hours, is to get past the beginner’s blockade, which is the frustration that occurs when learning something new doesn’t come as naturally as you’d hoped for. The solution is to build in focused learning time into your daily routine.

Make dedicated time for practice. The time you spend acquiring a new skill must come from somewhere. Unfortunately, we tend to want to acquire new skills and keep doing many of the other activities we enjoy, like watching TV, playing video games, et cetera. “I’ll get around to it, when I find the time,” we say to ourselves. Here’s the truth: “finding” time is a myth. No one ever “finds” time for anything, in the sense of miraculously discovering some bank of extra time, like finding a twenty-dollar bill you accidentally left in your coat pocket. If you rely on finding time to do something, it will never be done. If you want to find time, you must make time.

The First 20 Hours tells you how to use the initial learning time to maximum effect and have as steep a learning curve as possible. To learn a skill, you must deconstruct the skill into its constituent subskills and learn enough about each subskill to be able to practice effectively and self-correct. For instance, Kaufman finds a shortcut to learning how to play the ukulele by memorizing the three chords needed for the majority of songs, which happen to be C, F, and G.

How to Learn Anything Faster

Learning is Fun but it is also Dedicated Work The first three rambling chapters of The First 20 Hours introduce many general principles of rapid skill acquisition and effective learning. The six succeeding chapters give Kaufman’s firsthand accounts of how he applied these principles to learn yoga, programming, touch-typing, a Chinese board game called Go, ukulele, and windsurfing. The chief takeaways from these chapters are,

  • Study, by itself, is never enough. If you want to get good at anything where real-life performance matters, you have to practice that skill in context.
  • Invest your limited time on the sub-skills with most payback and avoid those elements of the skill that are non-essential.
  • Create mental models and checklists for remembering the things you need to do each time you practice. It helps make the learning process more efficient.

Recommendation: Skim Josh Kaufman’s The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast. Start with the author’s TED video and then speed-read the first three chapters (39 pages) and the prologues. Read the subsequent six chapters only if the subject matter particular skills fascinate you—these monotonous chapters expose the many nuances of the trial and error in the course of learning.