Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Provide the right level of detail for your audience

P started to tell me about the latest video game he had played. A complained and asked if we had to listen to this. My initial reaction was going to be to say "yes, P wants to tell us about this so we should listen" but P was giving me some very detailed information that was not very interesting to A. So I actually spoke about the importance of being brief and focus on the "important" stuff. It obviously depends on the situation: I am sure some of P's friends enjoy hearing every last detail of the video game, but one must asses one's audience and provide the appropriate level of detail for it. In this situation, P was giving more details than we cared to hear... Imagine a neurosurgeon talking with some non doctors. It would not be appropriate for him to get into the scientific details of his latest surgery. His audience would probably not even understand. Yet if he was talking with a fellow neurosurgeon, then obviously more details would be appropriate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting Unbiased Advice

We spoke about how to make sure that the advice you are getting is unbiased:

- If the person would benefit from your decision then you should watch out. Some situations are pretty obvious, e.g., a salesman. But others less so. For example, I would benefit from great families joining my kids school, so anyone getting advice from me about schools needs to consider that.

- If the person doesn't provide a balanced view, with pros and cons, but only gives your pros (or cons) that is a Red flag.

- If they don't have real experience in the subject matter. How well do they really understand the issues? I mentioned that how confident and authoritative someone sounds is not correlated that how knowledgeable he is. Yet, unfortunately, we tend to assume it is. Don't let those who sound the most confident about their opinions influence you more than others.

- Try to get a large enough sample of opinions.

- Try to find people who share your values and points of view.

Monday, September 27, 2010


This week I spent a couple of days at an Endeavor ( event. Endeavor is a fabulous organization that supports entrepreneurs in many developing countries, e.g., Argentina, Chile, Jordan, South Africa. They had their selection panel to choose the entrepreneurs they will help this year and I was invited to be a judge. It is terrific to meet entrepreneurs from all over the world. I told the kids about it...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Saving Intangibles

Over the weekend we had a conversation with A about his grades and the need to at least match the class average. Obviously, it would be ideal if he was at the top of the class, but that is up to him. The conversation was about the "minimum" that we expected from him (long story for another post)... We mentioned that what mattered was his running average, so he should try to get more than the class average as often as possible so that if he had a bad day and got a lousy grade once, his average would still be above the class average. In other words, he should "save" points.

In the car I ask the boys about other "intangibles" that one can save. N said food, which didn't qualify as an intangible :-). P said friends, which is also not intangible, but closer. He said it was good to have many friends in case some moved out of town (his best friend moved to the East Coast last year). One of them said "love", and I said that giving lots of love, besides being great, probably accumulated "goodwill" for you. Which was a good things for that they in which you misbehave...

I mentioned that sleep was unfortunately something that apparently we can't save: sleeping fo 24 hours straight wont help you stay awake the next day! Other intangibles you can save? vacation days (or, in their case, lack of absences from school).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't use my board game!

We have been playing a cool strategy board game that P got for his birthday. The other night P came down to the kitchen and found C & I playing the game by ourselves. He immediately took the board away (ruining our game) and told us we had no permission to use his game. I am still trying to decide whether it makes sense for me to have to ask P for permission to use his board games. After all, the kids use the "common" board games without permission... But that is not my point today. Instead, I told the kids how P could have handled the situation much better in the following way:

- Calmly tell C & I that he would prefer if we ask for permission before we use his board game.
- Asking if we could put it away, or at least move it away from the kitchen table where he was worried it would get dirty.

Basically, being polite he would achieved his goal without alienating us and making us feel that next time he asked us to play the game we might refuse... No matter what you want from people, in general, a polite accommodating request generates better results - not to mentioned that it is the proper thing to do regardless

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who created the Internet?

N asked me "Who invented the Internet?". Told him about universities connecting their mainframes, the military creating a redundant network, physicists at linear accelerators collaborating, Tim Berners Lee inventing the Web... N wanted to know how rich Berners Lee was. Told him I din't know but that I thought he was very happy working at MIT, being a knight, and hanging out with all sorts of interesting people.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Changing Behaviors with Tricks

N is training his new bird Martin. Spoke with the boys about using "tricks" rather than "brute force" to modify behavior (of either animals or people). Repeating "No, Martin. Don't bite my watch " rarely works. Yet keeping him away from your watch solves the problem. I had a German Shepherd when I was a boy. I got him to seat when I yelled "seat" at him, but I was having a really hard time training to get up when I yelled "stand". Until I heard of a trick: wait for him to get up on his own, and as he was doing so, yell "stand". It worked like a charm! After a while he associated "stand" with getting up and would follow my instructions :-).

What about people? Well, instead of lecturing someone about eating less, how about not having junk food around and serving small healthy portions in dinner plates? Oh, yes, and staying busy avoids the eating to fight boredom problem. No need for lectures...

If a "behavior change" is all you are after, there is no need to get the person (or animal) to internalize some deep principle. Just make it easy for the to "do the right thing".

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Little Things that Get You

A tiny cut in my pinky toe almost ruined a recent kiting trip. While I was very careful about the big risks (wore a helmet, launched the kite always over the water, etc) I initially ignored this tiny cut which got infected and made it really painful to ride. Fortunately, I kept it under control with lots of tape and local antibiotics, but it reminded me of the importance of paying attention to the little things. I told the kids the story of Al Capone, who was careful to cover his murders and bribes, but got thrown in jail for the much less serious offense of not paying his taxes. Great explorers and athletes have also gotten in trouble from ignoring little things: climbing high treacherous peaks only to die of infection from a small cut; bike riding a steep mountain only to fall in the parking lot and break a bone (or two).

Don't lower your guard during the "easy" periods and don't ignore the little things.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Unplanned experiences

One of the most memorable experiences of our summer occurred when a street performer asked N to help him with his act. N is a natural born actor and clown and pretty much stole the act from the street performer (proud parent perspective, of course ;-). It was a much more memorable experience than the carefully planned bike ride through the countryside. What is the takeaway? Some of the best things in life can be serendipitous and improvised. Yes the story is a bit more complicated than that... We didn't randomly encounter that street performer. We purposefully went to an interesting neighborhood and in particular to an area where we knew there were street performers. We then were fortunate to encounter a particular performer who chose and clicked with N. Had we just stayed home no amount of luck would have resulted in such a memorable experience... So, put yourself in situations in which interesting things are more prone to happen... And, don't give up entirely on planned activities. While not all of them live up to our expectations, some do - and wont occur serendipitously.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to School!

Kids are back at school so the driving (& blogging) resume. Do summer vacations need to be this long in 2010? Is it the teachers' unions that keep them this long? Don't get me wrong, summer vacations are great. I just think a couple of months would be plenty... Besides, teachers and children could probably use the extra time.

Anyway, I did a repeat topic today: first impressions. I know if was a repeat not because I remembered doing it, but because the boys immediately knew the importance of first impressions when I asked them about it. Seemed relevant for the first day of school...