Freeman Dyson on Richard Feynman

Source: Nautilus, Dec 2016

What made Feynman different from other scientists?

He was extremely original. He had his own way of doing science, which was different from everybody else. That’s why he had a hard time communicating. He never wrote down equations. Most people in physics write down an equation and then find the solutions, but that wasn’t the way Feynman did it. Feynman would just write down the solutions without ever writing the equations. It seemed like a sort of magic because he thought in terms of pictures instead of equations. He had these little pictures in his head and he scribbled little pictures on paper and nobody understood what they meant. My job was to translate Feynman into language other people could understand.

Do you need to be willing to risk your reputation and pursue crazy ideas? Is that what leads to great breakthroughs?

First of all, it helps to be ignorant. The time when I did my best work was when I was most ignorant. Knowing too much is a great handicap. Especially if you’ve been teaching for some years, things get so fixed in your mind and it’s impossible to think outside the box. I was in the lucky position of jumping into physics without ever having taken any courses in physics. I’d only been a pure mathematician up to that point.

Is the great scientist also naturally subversive?

Yes, undoubtedly. You’ve got to destroy what exists in order to build something new. You need good taste, of course. If you destroy indiscriminately, it doesn’t help at all. That’s where intuition comes in—what parts of the old building should be taken down.

Being Confident

Source: Fast Company, Dec 2016

THEY AVOID PRESSING THEIR OWN AGENDA

The truly confident always try to learn about the perspectives, thoughts, and feelings of the people around them, for the simple reasons that they like people and want to do good by them. They possess an “I can and will learn from everyone” attitude, with the belief that everyone has something to bring to the table.

Next time you’re in a group setting, take note of who guides the conversation and how: Who asks the most thoughtful questions, and who listens more than they speak? Confident people don’t need to control a conversation. They know their own agenda; they want to learn about yours.

THEY ARE GOOD AT INTRODUCING PEOPLE

Confident people are connectors. They know their goals and do what they can to help others achieve theirs. How do you feel when someone introduces you like, “You have to meet Tom, he was the guy I was telling you about earlier who is great at _____”? Pretty incredible, right? (Much better than just, “Oh, and this is my colleague Tom.”) Confident people intuitively seek out how they can add value to their circle and extend it every chance they get.

THEY PERSEVERE (INTELLIGENTLY)

What separates the truly confident from the overconfident is their ability to seek out advice from people with varying points of view.

confident people tend to have the wherewithal to act when presented with a better alternative that challenges their own opinion. It’s not a question of who’s right or wrong. If there’s a better idea, confident people adopt it, then thank the person for their advice and pay the favor forward.

THEY FOLLOW UP ON PAST CONVERSATIONS

Confident people check in on the progress of the people in their lives, because they truly care about their success. They listen attentively, recognize what’s important to others, and then they follow up.

THEIR VERBAL AND NONVERBAL CUES MATCH UP

When spending time with confident people, you’ll not only see that they’re being attentive, you’ll feel it—in the way they position their bodies and make eye contact. They lean in when they sense something means a great deal to you and touch you when they feel a connection. Researchers have found that this congruence—between what’s said out loud and what’s communicated without words—is crucial for establishing trust. A very subtle touch, like a tap on the shoulder, can go a long way in reinforcing verbal support.

THEY DON’T SEEK OTHERS’ APPROVAL

Attention feeds the human appetite on some level for everybody, but the truly confident, as Kareen Abdul Jabbar once put it, just want “to play the game well and go home.”

sharing the spotlight is far more satisfying than going it alone.

THEY CELEBRATE OTHERS’ SUCCESSES

If you know what you want and are on a path to achieving it, what’s stopping you from truly being happy for somebody who fought hard to achieve one of their goals? Confident people take real pleasure in seeing other people succeed and recognize the importance of supporting others. They remember how they, too, are empowered by others at key times in their lives. After all, being truly happy for other people has this funny way of adding to your own happiness.

Performance Reviews for Married Couples

Source: QZ, Oct 2015

Increasingly, marriage counselors are recommending that couples conduct regular performance reviews with each other, according to the Wall Street Journal. Therapists say the reviews are a constructive way to revisit relationship goals, confront obstacles, and prevent small problems from ballooning to insurmountable ones.

… the short, practical, list she offers up (pdf). And I like the intentionality.

Dr. Cordova and his colleagues asked 216 married couples about the biggest strengths and weaknesses in their relationship. Half the couples then saw a therapist for two sessions to discuss their assessments and tackle the issues that arose. The other half did not. Here is what they found:

 

The researchers, who followed up with the couples after one and two years, found those who had performed the checkup saw significant improvements in their relationship satisfaction, intimacy and feelings of acceptance by their partner, as well as a decrease in depressive symptoms, compared with the couples in the control group who didn’t perform a checkup. In addition, the couples who had the most problems in their marriage before the checkup saw the most improvement.

There are rules to how you do a performance assessment:
  • couples must address behavior, not character (this is not a free-for-all bitch session);
  • explain yourself,
  • empathize,
  • be consistent and
  • identify what you want to change.

Designed properly, a review neutralizes the emotions of day-to-day fights (who didn’t take out the trash) in an attempt to frame goals (let’s share the housework), recognize issues (we are not sharing the chores) and implement solutions (let’s get the kids to do it!).

John Gottman, the genius marriage guru, says couples need to minimize “regrettable incidents” or the things you say about her mother that can never be taken back.

Preventing Work Burnout

Source: Creativity Post, Dec 2016

1. Detach When You’re Not Working

First, detaching from work can actually make us more productive. Sabine Sonnentag, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, has found that people who do not know how to detach from work during their downtime experienced increased exhaustion over the course of one year and became less resilient in the face of stressful work conditions. By contrast, gaining some emotional distance from highly demanding work tends to help people recover from stress faster and leads to increased productivity.  

Recommended activities include exercise, walks in nature, and total absorption in a hobby that’s unrelated to work …

Positively reflecting about your job after work hours can also help replenish you, according to research by Sonnentag and Wharton Professor Adam Grant. In other words, thinking about the good sides of your work at the end of your workday – in particular about the ways in which you are benefitting others – results in higher well-being and happiness.

2. Calm Down Rather than Amping Up

Our addiction to caffeine and other stimulants is another big issue. In the name of productivity, we have learned to keep our adrenaline levels high with copious amounts of coffee. Caffeine is a drug – albeit a socially accepted one. It is a stimulant. When we drink coffee, it raises cortisol (the “stress” hormone) above its natural levels.  Cortisol is naturally occurring in our body – it helps us wake up in the morning and have energy to start the day. However, raising it to unusual levels through coffee is the reason we sometimes feel so jittery after consuming caffeine.

This means we wind up depending on anxiety to fuel ourselves to get through our overscheduled days. Other people may rely on stimulants like sugar, energy drinks and even potentially addictive drugs like Adderall to help themselves stay up and focus for long hours.

Then, over-stimulated and unable to calm down when we come home, we turn to depressants like alcohol, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication to achieve balance. The constant back-and-forth between stimulant-induced anxiety and depressant-induced drowsiness places an enormous burden on our already exhausted nervous system.  

Cutting back on stimulants and cultivating calmness in your life – through yoga, walks in nature, and tech-fasts, for example – can help you turn down the dial on your adrenaline-filled life. By balancing these calming activities with the more high-intensity demands of your life, you will end up managing your energy better, having more emotional intelligence and making better decisions.

3 Foolproof Ways to Prevent Work Burnout, Backed by Science

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Synopsis

Over-working leads to burnout, here’s a better way to get things done.

Our culture is obsessed with productivity. But research shows that stressing ourselves out over an ever-expanding to-do list actually works against us—no matter how “productive” we may feel. After all, we’re seeing 50% burnout rates across industries.

Not only does workaholism double the risk of depression and anxiety, it actually lowers productivity and decreases work performance, according to research by Steven Sussman at the University of Southern California. It also leads to sleep problems and shortened attention spans, both of conspire to get in the way of our ability to do good work. Workaholism is bad for employers as well: it leads to stress-related accidents, absenteeism, higher employee turnover, lower productivity and higher medical costs.  

So why have we gotten caught up in a frantic approach to productivity? As a Stanford University research psychologist who has spent years looking into this literature, I believe the problem lies in our constant focus on the future – we believe we always have to look ahead in order to succeed and be happy. This belief leads us to forego personal happiness in the present and spend our days hunched over our computers, grinding our teeth and reassuring ourselves that the eventual payoff will be worth it.

But the truth is that nonstop focus on our work leads to the opposite of what we want: we are stressed, tired and never satisfied because there’s always something more to be done. Two simple changes could make us much better off.

1. Detach When You’re Not Working

First, detaching from work can actually make us more productive. Sabine Sonnentag, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Mannheim in Germany, has found that people who do not know how to detach from work during their downtime experienced increased exhaustion over the course of one year and became less resilient in the face of stressful work conditions. By contrast, gaining some emotional distance from highly demanding work tends to help people recover from stress faster and leads to increased productivity.  

“From our research, one can conclude that it is good to schedule time for recovery and to use this time in an optimal way,” Sonnentag shared with me. Recommended activities include exercise, walks in nature, and total absorption in a hobby that’s unrelated to work—whether that’s shooting hoops with friends, doing some woodcarving in the garage or learning to make dim sum. Positively reflecting about your job after work hours can also help replenish you, according to research by Sonnentag and Wharton Professor Adam Grant. In other words, thinking about the good sides of your work at the end of your workday – in particular about the ways in which you are benefitting others – results in higher well-being and happiness. If your work directly benefits others (e.g. you are a firefighter or a nurse), this exercise will be straightforward. If, however, you don’t feel that your work product benefits others substantially, you can still think about how your work is impacting others in a positive way. For example, it is benefitting your family. Or your attitude at work is benefitting your colleagues. Research shows that, when we are engaged in any kind of prosocial or kind action, we become happier.

Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

Source: Blake Richard Verdoorn/Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

2. Calm Down Rather than Amping Up

Our addiction to caffeine and other stimulants is another big issue. In the name of productivity, we have learned to keep our adrenaline levels high with copious amounts of coffee. Caffeine is a drug – albeit a socially accepted one. It is a stimulant. When we drink coffee, it raises cortisol (the “stress” hormone) above its natural levels.  Cortisol is naturally occurring in our body – it helps us wake up in the morning and have energy to start the day. However, raising it to unusual levels through coffee is the reason we sometimes feel so jittery after consuming caffeine.

This means we wind up depending on anxiety to fuel ourselves to get through our overscheduled days. Other people may rely on stimulants like sugar, energy drinks and even potentially addictive drugs like Adderall to help themselves stay up and focus for long hours.

Then, over-stimulated and unable to calm down when we come home, we turn to depressants like alcohol, sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medication to achieve balance. The constant back-and-forth between stimulant-induced anxiety and depressant-induced drowsiness places an enormous burden on our already exhausted nervous system.  

Cutting back on stimulants and cultivating calmness in your life – through yoga, walks in nature, and tech-fasts, for example – can help you turn down the dial on your adrenaline-filled life. By balancing these calming activities with the more high-intensity demands of your life, you will end up managing your energy better, having more emotional intelligence and making better decisions.

3. Breathe

Research that I led with veterans (arguably some of the most stressed individuals in our society when they return from war) shows that learning conscious breathing (sudarshan kriya yoga) can help significantly reduce our stress and anxiety levels—sometimes in minutes. Breathing is among the most neglected solutions to stress, since it mostly happens on its own while we’re not paying attention to it.

But research suggests that you can change how you feel using your breath. By taking deep breaths into your abdomen and lengthening your exhales so they are longer than your inhales helps your nervous system relax – your heart rate and blood pressure may even decrease. Having a more relaxed nervous system will actually help provide you with more energy. Instead of wearing yourself out quickly with adrenaline, by remaining calm and engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, you will be able to restore yourself and manage your energy throughout the day without crashing. 

AI: Pattern Recognition & Model-Building

Source: The Morning Paper, Nov 2016

an important difference between learning systems that are fundamentally based on statistical pattern recognition, and learning systems that build some model of the world they can reason over.

The pattern recognition approach discovers features that have something in common – classification labels for example – across a large diverse set of training data.

The model building approach creates models to understand and explain the world, to imagine consequences of actions, and make plans.

People learn more than how to do pattern recognition, they learn a concept – that is, a model of the class that allows their acquired knowledge to be flexibly applied in new ways. In addition to recognising new example, people can also generate new examples, parse a character into its most important parts and relations, and generate new characters given a small set of related characters. These additional abilities come for free along with the acquisition of the underlying concept. Even for these simple visual concepts, people are still better and more sophisticated learners than the best algorithms for character recognition. People learn a lot more from a lot less, and capturing these human-level learning abilities in machines is the Characters Challenge.

Economics of AI

Source: HBR, Dec 2016

All human activities can be described by five high-level components: data, prediction, judgment, action, and outcomes. For example, a visit to the doctor in response to pain leads to: 1) x-rays, blood tests, monitoring (data), 2) diagnosis of the problem, such as “if we administer treatment A, then we predict outcome X, but if we administer treatment B, then we predict outcome Y” (prediction), 3) weighing options: “given your age, lifestyle, and family status, I think you might be best with treatment A; let’s discuss how you feel about the risks and side effects” (judgment); 4) administering treatment A (action), and 5) full recovery with minor side effects (outcome).

As machine intelligence improves, the value of human prediction skills will decrease because machine prediction will provide a cheaper and better substitute for human prediction, just as machines did for arithmetic. However, this does not spell doom for human jobs, as many experts suggest. That’s because the value of human judgment skills will increase. Using the language of economics, judgment is a complement to prediction and therefore when the cost of prediction falls demand for judgment rises. We’ll want more human judgment.

The line between judgment and prediction isn’t clear cut – some judgment tasks will even be reframed as a series of predictions. Yet, overall the value of prediction-related human skills will fall, and the value of judgment-related skills will rise.

2% of Work Tasks: Creativity

Source: McKinsey, Jan 2017

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