One of my favorite classes this past quarter was called "Thinking on Your Feet." It's taught by a psychology professor and researcher who specializes in memory. We applied a lot of psychology research and different thinking techniques to solving business problems and becoming more effective "thinkers" within a business context. Below are some of my key takeaways.
- The oldest part of our brain, shared with many other animals, is the brain stem, and it's responsible for lots of automatic actions like breathing and vomiting. The next oldest is the limbic system, responsible for emotions. The very newest, and relatively much, much younger and less developed, part is the neo-cortex, which is in charge of rationality and logic. Our limbic system is much more dominant than our neo-cortex, explaining why we can so easily get caught up in our emotions.
- The conventional wisdom is that we don't make new neurons, that the brain's functions are immutable, and that memory resides in just one part of brain. We learned that all of these myths are wrong. Handicapped or injured people re-purpose their brains to compensate, and memories reside throughout the brain and physically alter it as new connections are formed.
- Brain fuels (good for you): choline (acetylcholine), glucose, B complex (niacine, thiamine, B12), water, and omega 3. Go, fish!
- Brain drains (bad for you): aspartame (fake sugar), alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, and nicotine. No smoking!
- Other things that affect brain biology and thinking ability: stress, sleep, diet, mental exercise, and physical exercise.
- SMART (v1): Be Specific about your goals, Measure (not just what's easy; beware of perverse incentives; yardsticks we use bias how we interpret information and the conclusions we draw; beware of choosing yardsticks that make us look good), Seek Accuracy, Seek Relevant information, Find ways to Track progress
- “The biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.” -George Bernard Shaw
- SMART (v2): Sense of purpose in life (know how vs. know why), Meaningful goals, Asking And then what, Being Realistic, Situating goals within Time
- Chaos can be good (especially for creativity): Start with Divergent Chaos (questioning, generating ideas), end with Convergent Chaos (funneling down into answers, truth)
- “It is not the strongest in the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” -Charles Darwin
- Adaptive processes are often better than rigorous long-term planning: taxicabs operating in distributed fashion as opposed to centralized control. Key is to document and broadcast.
- Bring the future to the present: Experiment with different jobs, talk to mentors, get data from potential customers. (Lean start-up methodology!)
- Tyranny of OR: Sometimes when faced with a binary decision, you can find ways to do both or neither. Instead of deciding between "yes" and "no," say "YO!"
- Seek simplicity: Think “familiar”; think “progress, not perfection”; engage everyone; small changes add up!
- Positive deviance: When seeking to make a change, identify parts of life where you're already effective and learn from those small examples. Focus on what's working as opposed to what's not working.
- Events don't cause you to "feel" anything. Your thinking and labeling causes you to feel things.
- Activating Events trigger Thinking which triggers Feelings and Behaviors.
- Ineffective thinking #1: Catastrophic thinking/awfulizing. This is when you hate on yourself and say your world will end if you don't perform a certain way.
- Ineffective thinking #2: Absolutist thinking/shoulding/always/never. This is when you "should all over yourself" by saying you should have done this or that and that you always fail in one thing or another.
- Ineffective thinking #3: Rationalization/excuses. This is when you come up with excuses for doing or not doing something or why something turned out one way which you didn't like (as opposed to facing and learning from the truth).
- Constructive comebacks: Honest, emotional responses to events that acknowledge your feeling but also allow you be firm with your needs and wants and learn from the experience.
- Healthy emotions: Generally people's vocabulary is very limited in the names of emotions they speak about or attribute to themselves. Finding ways to expand that and be able to be more descriptive will allow you to be more honest with others and yourself about how you feel.
Dealing with Biases
- Satisficing vs. maximizing: Humans go for what's "good enough" rather than maximize and think rationally in all decisions.
- Anchoring, Priming: You can be influenced a lot by suggestions in the environment, other non-related words in a discussion, and the first offer in a game or negotiation. The preliminary design of a project can greatly affect the final design. Thinking about this and finding ways to not judge things too early is important for creativity.
- Hindsight bias: It's easy to understand after the fact why something happened as it did even though it was unpredictable beforehand.
- Sunk costs, regret: Humans are constantly worried about the money they paid in the past and the effort they put into something, even when it's not relevant to current or future decisions. We also have greater regret for acts of commission than acts of omission.
- Loss aversion: We care more about losing a sum of money than gaining the same sum.
- Pre-mortem: Try to use the hindsight bias to your advantage by thinking of all the ways a project could fail beforehand; imagine yourself doing the post-mortem and brainstorming all the ways the project could fail (in order to prepare and address those when actually doing it).
- A great way to remember a list of items or a group of people's names is to start with the first, then the second and the first, and continue to add on names and repeat all the other names that came before it. Through this pyramiding repetition, you can remember a large quantity of information.
- Context effects: Context in which you learn something affects context in which you can remember it. Taking a test in a classroom where you learned the material, for example, turns out to produce better scores than taking it in a different room. Even the level of sobriety under which you memorize things affects which level of sobriety you're most likely to be able to recall them (matching levels of sobriety do best).
- Spacing: When practicing memorization/recall, spacing out practice achieves better results than cramming.
- Mental images: Create vivid, personal, animated, interactive mental images for something you need to remember to bring or do in certain locations or times.
- Memory mnemonic for lists of things: peg system
- Flashbulb memories are memories you have after big life events or traumatic occurrences. In these, you remember vividly your location, what you were doing, the source of the information, your emotion, and the aftermath.
- False memory syndrome: Research shows it's possible to plant false memories by getting an insider to speak with the subject and plant seeds of doubt and an alternate story. This was very eerily reminiscent of Inception.
- Memory and age: As you age, you're less able to time share/multi-task, and storage and retrieval slow down. However, research shows that elderly who have purpose and must remember to do something themselves (like water a plant) live considerably longer.
- The availability of memory is influenced by the information's structure, recency, media attention and repetition, and emotion.