Problem Solving


We're Not Wired To React Unemotionally To Information

Numbers and statistics are necessary and great for exposing the truth, but they’re not enough to change beliefs, and they are almost useless for motivating action.

The huge amount of information we are receiving today can make us even less sensitive to data because we’ve become accustomed to finding support for anything we want to believe, with a simple click of the mouse. Instead, our desires are what shape our beliefs.



Problem Solving


The Influential Mind

by Tali Sharot

An attempt to change someone’s mind will be successful if it aligns with the core elements that govern how we think:

  1. Prior beliefs
  2. Emotion
  3. Incentives
  4. Agency 
  5. Curiosity
  6. State of mind
  7. Other people.
Evidence Does Not Change Beliefs

While we adore data, the problem with an approach that prioritizes information and logic is that it ignores the core of what makes you and me human: our motives, our fears, our hopes and desires.

Data has only a limited capacity to alter the strong opinions of others. Established beliefs can be extremely resistant to change, even when scientific evidence is provided to undermine those beliefs.

This happens when people are presented with information that contradicts their opinion and they come up with altogether new counterarguments that further strengthen their original view.

When you provide someone with new data, they quickly accept evidence that confirms their prior beliefs and assess counterevidence with a critical eye. 

Google Is (Always) On Our Side

In today’s world, the ease by which we can find “data” and “evidence” to discredit any opinion—and, at the same time, uncover new information to support our own—is unprecedented.

Paradoxically then, the wealth of available information makes us more resistant to change, because it is so easy to find data that support our own vision.

The greater your cognitive capacity, the greater your ability to rationalize and interpret information at will, and to creatively twist data to fit your opinions.

People with stronger analytic abilities are more likely to twist data at will than people with low reasoning ability. 

Emotion equates the physiological state of the listener with that of the speaker, which makes it more likely that the listener will process incoming information in a similar manner to how the speaker sees it.

If I feel happy and you feel sad, we are unlikely to interpret the same story in the same way. But if I can first help you feel as happy as I do, perhaps by sharing a joke, you will be more likely to construe my message the way I do.

How Emotional Transfer Works
  • Unconscious mimicry. People constantly mimic other people’s gestures, sounds, and facial expressions. We do this automatically. 
  • Reacting to emotional stimuli. Because a fearful face often indicates that there is something to be afraid of, we react to it with fear.
Twitter: The “Amygdala Of The Internet

Tweeting is one of the most emotionally arousing activities you likely engage in on most days. Studies show that tweeting raises your pulse, makes you sweat, and enlarges your pupils—all indicators of arousal.

Relative to just browsing the Web, tweeting and retweeting enhances brain activity indicative of emotional arousal by 75 percent. Simply reading your feed increases your emotional arousal by 65 percent.

It states that we approach those people, items, and events we believe can do us good and avoid those that can do us harm.

In other words, we move toward pleasure and away from pain. 

The difficulty in trying to change people’s behavior by warning them of the spread of disease, loss of money, weight gain, or global warming is that these are all uncertain future sticks. 

It is hard to convince people work for something that may or may not happen. This is why a threat of momentous future harm can sometimes be less effective than a minor reward that is immediate and certain. 

Our Relationship  With Control
  • Most people become stressed and anxious when their ability to control their environment is removed.
  • Control is tightly related to influence. When you alter someone’s beliefs or actions you are, to some extent, exerting control over that individual. 
  • One way to express control is to make a choice. 

Because we often experience better outcomes following choice, the association between choice and reward has become so strong in our minds that choice itself has become rewarding.

However, sometimes the decision is so complex and taxing that we prefer not to make a decision. For example, if you give people too many options, they become overwhelmed and don’t choose anything.

Filling Information Gaps

Information gaps make people feel uncomfortable while filling them is satisfying. If you possess information that can fill existing gaps in people’s knowledge, remind them of those gaps. 

Consider online clickbait such as “The ten celebrities you never knew were enthusiastic gardeners” or “The three politicians you never knew got a nose job.” Those create gaps of knowledge in people’s mind that were not there to begin with.

This is our ability to think about what other people are thinking. We think constantly about what the other person is thinking and adjust our behavior accordingly. 

While the tendency to engage in theory of mind is useful—it helps us relate to one another and predict what people will do next—the human mind is not a perfect inference machine, and inevitably we will, at times, reach the wrong conclusions.

Two Phenomena That Can Result In Not-So-Wise Crowds
  • The tendency of our brains to produce unconscious biases. From cognitive biases to errors in decision-making and forecasts, the human brain has evolved for greatness but has preserved countless biases.
  • The human inclination for social learning. If by nature we look to others for information and clues about what is true and, these individuals we consult carry inherent biases, it is inevitable that falsehoods will sometimes increase when individuals come together.
Risk and Uncertainty

People often confuse risk with uncertainty. But the terms "risk" and "uncertainty" do not refer to the same thing.

  • Risk is precise and quantifiable.
  • Uncertainty is when the underlying system is not understood.

The more you understand a system, the more able you are to convert uncertainty into risk.

  • Risk can be calculated by figuring out the odds.
  • Uncertainties can't be computed. Even if you could do the math, uncertainties don't have any numbers to calculate.

Most people deal with uncertainty by only doing things others have done in the past. But this tends to restrict people by repeating experiences they've had or knowing the experiences of others. This can create a trap where you avoid good opportunities just because nobody has tried them.

The prospect theory shows that people are often willing to make riskier decisions to avoid losses than to make gains - even when the situation is identical but framed differently. For example, a 30% chance of death and a 70% chance of life are two different ways to describe the same thing.

If uncertainty is the default, an irrationally strong influence will be exerted on the outcome.

Once you understand a system, you can change some risk into uncertainty. Sometimes you can do this completely, but other times you can limit your range of uncertainties to a calculable level.

More knowledge allows you more controlled risk. However, sometimes, people overestimate their knowledge. They may think they understand a system when they really don't.

Uncertainty hides the risks of our decisions. This makes us tread very carefully. But, in reality, most of the decision terrain isn't nearly so dangerous. Things that look risky often aren't, and things that look routine and safe, often are.

The solution is to gain more knowledge and understanding of the specific area. This will clear the fog, often revealing a gentle passage.

The paradox mindset

To adopt a paradox mindset means to consider the world with a “both/and” approach instead of an “either/or” one.

In times of change, uncertainty and scarcity, we need to do many tasks together. And people need to feel comfort with discomfort.

A simple framework to cultivate the paradox mindset :

  • Reframe the situation you're facing. When considering tensions, think in terms of enhancement and enrichment.
  • Accept the tension and develop comfort with the discomfort. With a paradox mindset, acceptance allows for the understanding that these tensions are a natural part of reality, and that we all experience them to a certain extent.
  • Distance yourself and search for new possibilities. We can try to distance ourselves from the problem and connect with others to get a different perspective
The Ego is confusing

The Ego is a confusing paradox. Many are in agreement that ego was bad, that it destroyed creativity and happiness, that they knew plenty of toxic egomaniacs who had wrecked themselves. But they still think Ego is important.

Ryan Holiday
One does not need to be an egotistical maniac to be successful. 

This is one of the most misleading and destructive myths in all of Western culture.

Trouble starts with Ego

It starts where our notion of ourselves and the world grows so strong that it begins to distort the reality which surrounds us. 

The ego has then succeeded in completely separating us from the world.

The Essence of Creativity

It is a deep and continuous connection to the world around us. The Ego disconnects us from reality, stifling creativity.

Confidence vs Ego
  • Confidence is based on what is real and it's earned. It does not alienate us from others.
  • Ego is based on delusion and wishful thinking. It is artifice and makes us self-centered.
The global deficit of collaboration skills

People are continually handling problems that require advice from others. We face issues that are broad in scope and impact, such as climate change.

But people are not naturally competent in collaborative problem-solving. Generally, people aren't being taught this skill either. A 2015 international assessment of students revealed that more than 90% of students could not overcome teamwork obstacles or resolve conflict. However, this deficit could be addressed and lead to positive change.

Team members need interpersonal competencies, communication skills like listening to learn, and the ability to take other's perspectives.

Collaborative problem-solving requires team members to create and maintain a shared understanding of the situation. Initially, there will be an uneven distribution of expertise and interpretation of the problem that will require clear communication. Then the team can lay out subtasks based upon member roles, or create mechanisms to coordinate member actions.

There are interrelated factors why so many students are unable to collaborate.

While students engage in group work in high school and college, they rarely receive meaningful instruction, modelling, and feedback about their teamwork abilities. This results in students overestimating their collaboration skills.

  • Research shows it's possible to teach collaboration competencies such as dealing with conflict and communicating to learn.
  • Students need opportunities for practice. They need to learn to work across disciplines, so that after graduation, they can work across professions on solving complex societal problems.
  • Feedback telling students how well they were able to take on the perspective of a teammate from another discipline is required, not merely feedback on whether students solved the problem.

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