Archive for August, 2016

Turn that Frown Upside-Down: Think of Sustainability in a Positive Frame

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

In the YCISL program, we focus on three mindset areas: positive, growth and youth (the latter as a competitive advantage). In a recent workshop memo I drafted with regards to our sustainability platform (that is, a topic that everything we do sits on), I also touched on a sustainability mindset and how that connects to several of our workshops topics – such as emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation and fast thinking (especially waggle-dance reasoning). We also recently added “positive framing” to our workshop topics. Altogether, a sustainability solution should consider all these factors in order to have a good chance at influencing human behavior. Ultimately, sustainability is about connecting knowledge with behavior – and making that an intrinsically repeatable condition.

In the workshops this summer, I talked about the idea of “Simple, but not easy” and used a personal example from sustainable health related to weight loss = eat less + exercise more. We then approach environmental sustainability with our session on “Sustainable by Design” which has been a great way to introduce emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation and fast thinking. We also try to show that positive and growth mindsets are essential. In reality though, sustainability is largely associated with pain or suffering or sacrifice – not too surprising as we know that adults tend to take the easy approach and use fear – the fear of judgement, the fear of disaster, etc.

But when did it get that way? I think it could have something to do with shortened attention spans and shorter-term outlooks (think Cultural Dimensions though to understand that there are differing levels globally). Countries embracing short-term outlooks probably tend to want to use fear for deep and lasting impression – so that they can go on to think up the next bad thing. But we know that using intrinsic positive emotion is harder than using negative framing, but is actually the more sustainably successful way to change human behavior.

Working with youth on sustainability is a wonderful challenge because there still is (Adora Svitak’s brand of) optimism that we can leverage to support sustainability in a positive frame and ultimately create solutions of tremendous impact for the benefit of sustainability. It’s time to reframe the sustainability message.

Let’s consider a few environmental sustainability situations.

  1. The Y2E2 building (that’s the building where my office is located). A few years ago, this building earned a LEED Platinum Certification for operations and maintenance (Stanford News article). Evaluation for this certification is based on performance (longitudinal measured data-based) and a couple of surveys. But if you’ve seen my earlier reports of how “empty” this building is, this certification is rooted in discouraging use of this building. As an example, this building is often cold until the critical number of occupants is reached (we rely on body heat and thermal air flow from computers) – usually 10 am.  In general, people come to this building because they have to, not because they want to. Does that make sustainability a worthwhile or even credible achievement? Is this the kind of human behavior we want?
  2. One of the frustratingly disconnected efforts to build sustainability is with cars. Car sustainability can be viewed in a few ways: (a) fuel consumption, (b) air pollution and (c) cradle-to-grave vehicle lifespan. Today’s solutions for more sustainable fuel consumption are more creative than innovative. Hybrid cars like the Prius are technological genius (electric cars less so, in my opinion; think Scalextric). Clean diesel automotive engines have seen some negative developments recently. And there are quite a few new gasoline cars that can achieve 30+ mpg on the freeway (but wait, I remember the Honda CRX getting rated at 50 mpg over 20 years ago). But all these gains are predicated on sensible driving and optimum driving conditions. Where and for how long can you sustain 55 mph in order to get the maximum mpg? Has human behavior changed so that fuel consumption has broadly risen? Not really. The argument for more sustainable automotive use just hasn’t become persuasive. [Similar thoughts can be applied to air pollution and cradle-to-grave but I don’t want to go on too long].
  3. Do you notice your own behavior when it comes to being more environmentally sustainable? Can you use less water? Can you use less electricity? Do you reduce, recycle and reuse more than before? What about those around you? So we have plastic bag bans and small fees for grocery bags now. How is that as a leadership strategy? Think of all the devices around us that are supposed to help us be more sustainable. Why not leverage intrinsic motivation rather than instill fear of penalty?

Satoru Iwata: GDC 2005 Keynote Speech

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

[Sorry, this has been sitting in my draft box for over a year…]

Satoru Iwata passed away a week ago on Saturday July 11, 2015. My attention was drawn (specifically by the YouTube video Nintendo President & CEO Satoru Iwata Passes Away – The Know) to the keynote speech he gave at the Game Developers Conference in 2005.

The first 11 minutes or so of this keynote speech lays out Mr Iwata’s personal story. Having been a Nintendo “gamer” for a long time (GameBoy, GameCube and the Wii) as well as long-term video game addict (starting with Pong and now with Clash Royale), I was very interested in Mr Iwata’s personal story. As I listened to his story, I found immense connectedness with the principles we try to share in the YCISL program.

  1. In the YCISL workshops, we discuss mindset. From this speech, I discovered that there is something deeper than mindset. Mr. Iwata’s opening lines are (pulling out a business card from his pocket) “On my business card, I am a Corporate President. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” We know about appearances and labels (i.e., his work title) – much of the time, these are things that others give us. Then he indicates to us that his mind functions in the game developer domain; this is the type of thinking/decision-making he does to fill his title. But there is an emotional (heart) level that provides him with passion, purpose and motivation.
  2. He shares several fond memories. Notice how he says “I remember the first video game I ever played…” He pictured himself in several ways including calling himself an “early adopter” and showing a photo of himself from his youth. I have used a photo from my high school days in my workshop opening – but seeing how effective it was in Mr. Iwata’s speech, I will try to more closely weave the photo into my personal story.
  3. He notes that having pride was a source of energy and passion. Pride also connects with intrinsic motivation. Pride isn’t something you can incentivize. It is an emotionally positive feeling that energizes the individual.
  4. He mentions his parents as an influence. We know influencers and supporters are critical to success as well as our emotional intelligence. Parents should try to brush us their persuasion skills – more intrinsic than extrinsic motivation.
  5. He says “…and it was all great fun.” It is great to hear a statement like this which shows that having fun is compatible with leadership. This connects with the Richard St John TED Talk where he uses the term “workafrolics.”
  6. Mr. Iwata also reflects on Lessons Learned. One of the lessons is the value of teamwork. Another is the importance of emotional response to success (he is talking about game development but I think this can be considered more widely). This ultimately connects with the idea of gamestorming.

I highly recommend watching the opening to this keynote speech. It is something valuable to think about while we pursue our hopes and dreams.

LinkedIn: Positivity Test

Monday, August 22nd, 2016


This entry is about a LinkedIn posting attributed to Pravin Shiv (sorry, I did not save the URL ). Since I am not sure of the copyright behind the graphic that was posted, I will just paraphrase here instead of inserting the graphic.

The graphic is of a “positivity test” and asks you to think of words that start with the letter “P” and end with the letter “E” – and it gives you 10 seconds.

This fits well with the Positive Mindset topic in our YCISL workshops.

It is interesting for several reasons:

  • the word “positive” can readily be derived from the word “positivity” on the slide.
  • there are actually a quite a few positive words that fit these rules.
  • there are relatively few negative words that fit these rules.
  • there are several neutral/non-emotional and bi-polar words too.

So it would be interesting to try this positivity test in the YCISL workshops and reflect on the results.

Teaching Tip: How to NOT connect with your students – Caffeinate

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

If I had a YCISL workshop for teachers, perhaps the first message I would send is to stop using coffee (or any caffeine) as a habitual start to the day.

One vivid memory I have from dropping off my kids in the mornings at elementary and middle schools is the “scooting” of teachers to their classrooms to get ready for the start of the day. But what I really noticed and have kept in mind is that most of the teachers were clutching a cup of coffee. I know lots of people (adults, that is) need a shot of coffee to get started in the morning – or at least they think they do. I wondered whether this morning ritual could affect classroom dynamics.

Let’s first jot down some advisory information from a Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) article titled “Parents & Teachers: Teens & Caffeine.” I trust PAMF as that is where my family and I get our (great) health services.

  • “There is no nutritional need for caffeine…”
  • “…more and more youth are picking up the bad habit of consuming these products, earlier.”
  • “Many youth use stimulants like caffeine to stay up and study or compensate for not getting enough sleep.”
  • “The effects of the caffeine stay with us for at least six hours, and caffeine is addictive.”
  • “Most people use caffeine as a stimulant, primarily in the morning to increase adrenaline production and help them feel alert during the day.”
  • “In the long run, caffeine does the opposite of what people want it to do.”

So, we should not encourage youth to drink coffee for health reasons. We know that youth already have sleep issues (see this other PAMF article “Sleep Needs“) – primarily due to stress, excessive homework and poorly structured school schedules – and caffeine makes it worse. Seeing teachers (or parents either) addicted to a morning coffee in order to get through their day is not a sight students should be exposed to.

But my concern about teachers caffeinating in order to function in front of students is more on the neurological level. For this, we might learn something from the Psychology Today article “Does Coffee Perk Up Your Brain . . . or Not?“:

  • “…increases your heart rate and blood pressure.”
  • “…studies show that caffeine only increases the output and quality of your work if the work you’re doing doesn’t require nuanced or abstract thinking.”
  • “Caffeine seems to speed your thinking processes up a bit, and improve memory creation and retention when it comes to declarative memory, the kind you use when memorizing lists.”
  • “It doesn’t seem to help at all when it comes to creative energy, or to thinking beyond basic tasks.”

So any thought that being caffeinated improves teaching is an intrinsic illusion. The teacher may feel more responsive and aware, but they are actually becoming focused on uni-tasking and not dynamically connecting with the class of students. Caffeinated teachers are also unable to involve creativity – which is one of the foundations of the YCISL program. Further, the idea that caffeine “speeds” thinking should be worrisome as the potential for accidents rises – how do you feel about speeders on highways and streets? To have teachers “speed” their teaching to students trying to learn knowledge for the first time (liken to student drivers) is perhaps the one of the most critical reasons education makes students stressed and fatigued.

From a personal observational standpoint, I have also seen university faculty clutching their caffeinated beverages (especially Diet Coke…oh, so sad) to lectures, meetings and other places…and I might guess at a causation-correlation with the heart problems that are commonplace here.

Teachers may be resistant to the idea of giving up caffeine as an artificial teaching aide. As with most beneficial behavioral change, there will be resistive arguments made as to why teachers should not be deprived of this pleasure. Arguments such as social value, long hours grading work, workload management and mental acuity may be voiced…but if we can positively frame, leveraging intrinsic motivation, the benefits of functioning with water or other relatively healthy beverages, then I think we can make a start at alleviating the stress that currently blankets our schools. Ideally, we can use an evidence-based approach to build intrinsic motivation to a sustainable level: give teachers feedback from the students about their performance without caffeine. To use one of our latest YCISL messages: I understand this is Simple, but not Easy.

Mel Robbins: How to stop screwing yourself over (TEDxSF Talk)

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

This is a two-part entry for two lessons I learned from  the Mel Robbins TEDxSF talk “How to stop screwing yourself over” (you can find it on YouTube).

In the Summer 2016 YCISL workshops, I added the message “Simple, but not easy” [SBNE, for short] which I derived from this talk. Robbins’ full message is that “Getting what you want… is SIMPLE (but not easy)” meaning the process to reach a goal usually consists of a few steps but there is a caveat that getting there takes energy, focus, persistence, etc.

In the YCISL workshop, I talk about my desire to lose weight and body fat – to do it, there are only two main steps: eat less and exercise more. But is it easy? Nooooooo!

The same thinking can be applied to the YCISL skills such as creativity, fast-thinking, emotional intelligence, intrinsic motivation, etc. Building up these skills is simple…practice, practice, practice…and you will become more creative, more innovative and a better leader. But I cannot promise that it’s easy.

And it can also be applied to our academic, work and social lives. For example: (i) to be a successful student, study hard and get good grades, (ii) to be successful at work, do good work and be rewarded, and (iii) to be socially active, get out more and make lots of friends.

This is a perfect example of how leadership usually works: here is point A and there is point B. Call me when you get there. [Think of Rory Sutherland’s strategic myth of management and tactical advantage in his TED Talk “Sweat the small stuff”]. However, if I place this in a positive frame, you can think of SBNE as the competitive advantage that we coach in the YCISL elevator pitch, PostIt Brainstorming and Rapid Prototyping exercises. Ideas, solutions and products that are simple may be worth pursuing because many others will find it too difficult to realize.

In the YCISL workshops, we coach fast-thinking as an essential self-trained skill. The YCISL Photo Essay assignment is an example of a “5-second rule” method…take a photo and capture the emotional thoughts as soon as possible. Most of our YCISL exercises that build fast-thinking involve decisions and actions that take on the order of seconds or even milliseconds.