Archive for December, 2011

Pace yourself with willpower to accomplish 2012 resolutions

Today’s Science Friday radio show made it known that willpower is a very limited resource.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that you can build up your willpower by proper exercises, just like you do for toning up muscles.  This is the premise of Florida State University psychology professor Roy F. Baumeister, whom Science Friday host Ira Flatow interviewed.  Baumeister and co-author John Tierney reveal all in their book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, chosen as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Amazon’s editors.

Here are a few pointers I picked up from Science Friday that will prevent depletion of your willpower reservoir:

  • Do not start in on all of your New Year’s resolutions all at once – pace yourself: Work on one resolution at a time.
  • Pick off the easiest resolutions first, such as making your bed every morning or taking your dog for a walk daily.
  • Exercise and build up your willpower with trivial things such as sitting up straighter and using your non-dominant hand to mouse around the computer.

For an inspiring demonstration of supreme willpower see this video of the  Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

Unfortunately, according to Professor Baumeister, testing your willpower on something as compelling as a sugary snack can be very perilous, because once you fail it goes downhill from there.  That’s why my goal is to first eat all the Christmas cookies before giving up sweets.

Happy New Year — best wishes for achieving all your resolutions…

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Why you should be very leery of forecasts

Check out this blog by statistician William Briggs that gives the heads up on how  Hurricane Predictors Admit They Can’t Predict Hurricanes.  Years ago as a chemical engineer working on process development I would be encouraged by plant personnel to crank old data through a regression analysis to model the operation, thus avoiding any work on their part to run designed experiments.  The joke was that we got very good at predicting what would happen last month.

In this case the issue is hurricanes.  As Briggs explains, the top experts can fit past data very well (r = 0.79 for 50-year period the last half of 20th century).  He refers to this as a ‘hindcast’.  But, as the hurricane forecasters themselves admit, these models predict so poorly (r = 0.04) that you may as well just use an average — what I call the ‘mean’ model as a double meaning (ha ha) because it is so disappointing for the analyst.

What it boils down to is that any forecasts on hurricanes this early before the coming season will really just be a lot of hot air, despite impressive statistics from models fit to prior years.  The same goes for long-term outlooks on other natural phenomena.


Favorite posts from three rings in the 2011 Management Improvement Blog Carnival (2 of 3)

For the 2011 Annual Management Improvement Blog Carnival,* I reviewed the Unfolding Leadership blog (the second of three looked over by me and my son Hank).  In his meme** inspired SMALL WORLD entry Dan Oestreich explains how he began blogging in 2004 as an outlet for creative expression, not only in words, but also photography.  The pictures are what caught my eye and made Unfolding Leadership stand out from the pack.  This blog of October 7 provides an example of Oestreich’s eloquence in words and visuals.

I found the mid-year blog ON HYPOCRISY AND SELF-PROTECTION very thought-provoking because of its forgiving dissection of why so many leaders say one thing but do the other.  Oestreich provides an inside look at just such a fellow who happens to be in charge of a technical group.  From my experience, competence in science and engineering correlates inversely with people skills.  However, if one is willing to put himself under a microscope and be open to change, improvement is possible.  I urge anyone in a leadership position, especially those with technical backgrounds, to read this blog.

Going back to the first Unfolding Leadership blog of 2011 titled SCAR one finds a very poignant story of a woman who had the courage to speak up at work, but, unfortunately, it created a very bad outcome.  I really like the accompanying photograph and found it very apropos.  Read the comments for further insights on this issue of trust.

* For all the 2011 blogs see this list  Background on the carnival itself can be found here

**(An idea that is spread from blog to blog – see this page for the provenance)

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Favorite posts from three rings in the 2011 Management Improvement Blog Carnival (1 of 3)

For the 2011 Annual Management Improvement Blog Carnival, hosted by John Hunter, we (my son Hank and I) will pick our favorite posts from these three blogs:

See us hosts and the blogs we’ve chosen to review at this site coordinated by John and background on the carnival itself here.

I will start off our part in this Carnival with my take on Edge Perspectives.  The author is John Hagel — a fellow with a background in law and management who caught my fancy for his passion about embracing change.  I live by Apostle Paul’s advice (1 Thes. 5:14-22) to “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”  However, as Hagel explains in his blog on Cognitive Biases in Times of Uncertainty uncertainty breeds fear for new technologies that offer big benefits.  It’s amazing to see how much people vary in interest/aversion to new technology.  For example, I recently made an impulse purchase of Sony’s Internet TV Blu-ray disc player.  When I asked Hank to help me set it up in our master bedroom, he got really keyed up about how this device streams content controlled by a nifty remote with all the functions of a full-size keyboard.  But then my wife tried to turn the TV on – not a good scene.  She just needs a lot more time to embrace technological change than Hank or me.

A number of the 2011 blogs in Edge Perspectives provide in-depth reviews of books by other big  thinkers offering their prescription for how Americans can regain their edge.  To be honest, I am just too busy dealing with everyday life to work up the necessary energy to get a grasp on these huge issues.  My attention gets re-engaged when Hegel delivers thoughts from the heart such as his Revolution from the Edge entry.  Here he reports back from TED, nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading” that draws top thinkers from around the globe, one of whom is invited to turn the world inside out – aided by a $100,000 award.  Hagel focuses his thoughts on the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, where a well-educated younger generation broke free of old ways enforced by rigid and repressive dictators.  Having just come away from India, where democracy fosters technological innovation (if only the infrastructure could catch up!), I am keen on Hagel’s call for those in developed nations to do everything possible for removing the barriers of corruption, debt and environmental degradation that stand in the way of further progress by emerging countries.

“As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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Formula for Happiness

Spiritual teacher Jaya Row, a microbiologist by training, provides a simple formula for happiness in this article on Timeless Truths which I saw in The Times of India while vacationing in Aurangabad last month.  Here it is: Happiness Quotient (HQ) equals the number of desires fulfilled divided by the number of desires entertained.  She advises that we focus more on the denominator than the numerator of this HQ ratio.   I interpret this as trying to be happy with less, rather than being greedy for more.

While in Aurangabad I came by the tomb of the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb.  His father, Shah Jahan, built the Taj Mahal – the most beautiful building in the world, in my opinion.*   Aurangazeb was an ascetic who followed a particularly austere from of Sufism.  At the ripe old age of 88 the emperor was buried according to his wishes in a simple tomb purchased with money he earned himself by stitching caps.  Sometimes the apple does fall far from tree.  One wonders who led the happier life – Aurangazeb or his father.  Now I think that the Taj Mahal really symbolizes the desires that never can be fulfilled in anyone’s life, that is, a monument to unhappiness.

Ending on a happier note, I offer up this photo of monkeys scampering along the road to Chand Minar, the Tower of the Moon, built by the Mughal conquerors of what came to be known as Aurangabad.

*Another story: While working for General Mills in the mid-1980s as a purchaser of Indian agricultural products, my agent bribed the guard at this monumental set of tombs in Agra to enable a private tour for my wife and I under a full moon and candlelight. Priceless!

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