Monthly Archives: March 2012

New Accelerators in 2014

Here’s a story from Detroit scheduled for release on Sunday, April 1st.

The major US auto manufacturers have announced they will begin equipping all 2014 cars and trucks with power assisted accelerator pedals.

The sixties brought the introduction of power steering. Power brakes followed in the seventies. Both advances began showing up in luxury models and trickled down over the years to all models.

It’s the opinion of the major car manufacturers in Detroit that the lack of foot pointing power is widespread enough that all models need to be equipped with power accelerators within a year and a half to avoid potential operational errors.

Internal studies funded by the “big three” have shown that Americans are heading down a slippery slope of sloth faster than expected.

We’re now not only exercising less, but actually avoiding exercise whenever possible. That trend, in combination with our standard American diet is resulting in newer levels of physical weakness.

The ability of many adult Americans to point their toes forcefully enough to depress an accelerator pedal has been steadily decreasing for the last 15 years the study claims.

The inclusion, by the American auto manufacturers, of the power assisted accelerator pedal is also seen as a leap ahead of the competition from Germany and Japan.


How to Choose

Is your best choice often the “good enough choice?” Barry Schwartz thinks so. He’s a Psychology researcher investigating how people make choices and how what they’ve  chosen affects them afterwards. It’s about the intersection of decision-making and satisfaction.

Dr Schwartz was interviewed by Amy Alkon about what he’s discovered about decision-making and satisfaction. Some of his findings go against what most of us think is true.

Decision-makers can be split into two groups, “maximizers”and “satisfizers.” A maximizer  is concerned with making the best choice from every possible available option. Whereas the satisfizer will choose what seems to be the good enough choice.

The maximizers do tend to make the optimum choice out of all that’s on offer, but… they wind up feeling worse about their results! Here’s a key insight, telling a maximizer that they’re doing better than someone else has less effect on them than pointing out they’re doing less well than someone else. Satisfizers report that their good enough choices make them happy.

Schwartz gives the example of choosing a college. Instead of picking a college that’ll be the best overall fit for the maximizer as a student and person, he’ll strive for the “best” college. And then, he’ll usually wind up at a good college but not getting as much out of it because a maximizer will be constantly regretting not getting into a Yale or Harvard. Or if a maximizer gets in to the best college, would it have been a better experience to go to the right college for their overall needs?

When it comes time to select a job after school, a maximizer will aim for the highest salary. The maximizers who were studied spent more time, gathered more information, sought out more options, and looked at what the people around them were doing. And, they secured jobs paying 20% more on average. But are they 20% happier? The researchers found that by every psychological measurement they felt worse. You do better but you feel worse.

And once they start working, you can be sure they know someone who’s making more than they are. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.


Stretching the Truth

“There I was, lost in the oldest part of Shanghai during a monsoon…” that’s how my friend started his story.

“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,” he advises. It’s  important, he says, for telling a good story. This comes from his background as a good storyteller and public speaker, plus he has formal training and lots of experience.

The biggest problem with his approach comes from his wife. She corrects him on the facts, sometimes while he’s telling a story. His wife thinks she’s helping; but he thinks she’s meddling, and is only disrupting a good story. He doesn’t really fib, but just stretches the truth to help propel the story that he’s telling along.

My friend and his wife sometimes get into a spat afterwards, in private, because of their different approaches. He’s trying to be entertaining and while she’s assuming he’s trying to relay facts to an audience. Of course, the situation isn’t resolved because they’re coming from two different places.

So here’s what takes place now. My friend winds up telling his best stories when his wife’s not around. Or he’ll tell a story she wasn’t around for… And they lived happily for the rest of their lives.

Stretching Time

Last week, we took an overnight trip to a small town an hour and a half up the coast. It’s smaller, but pretty similar to the small Mexican town we live in.

We were visiting some friends who’d done a house trade and invited us up for a night. Leaving home on a Wednesday afternoon, we were back home about the same time on Thursday. During that time I surfed a couple of times, we made a big dinner, caught up, and explored the town a little. It was relaxing and fun.

Here’s the thing, and I think most people feel this way. Even with all the similarities to where we live and despite the short time we were gone, it felt like we stretched a day into a week!

The Flock’s Getting Smarter

Catholics are known for not really reading the Bible. Their priests fill them in and I’m sure this isn’t just a Catholic trait. It’s in the interest of the priest class to control what information the flock has. But the flock’s getting smarter.

Though people with information often try to hoard and control it, the trend over time is for more people to become more exposed to ideas. And the scientific method contiues providing answers via a transparent process with answers that can be replicated.

Computing power continues to explode instead of increasing by drips; it doubles in power and halves in cost pretty much every two years. What’s going to happen as more and more people tap into internet that continues offering ever more information? Soon most people will have access to almost all the information and stories that everyone else has.

In the face of mysteries, most people seem to just want an answer because they don’t feel comfortable with uncertainty. And there are always people at the ready to provide the answer, even if it’s a guess or based on foolishness. But as mysteries are actually understood and explained, like that stars are really other suns – not pinholes in a shell above the earth, the providers of questionable and fantastical answers lose ground.

With easy access to good information it’ll be harder and harder for some people to persuade others, no matter if they’re sincere and wrong or simply con men. Any claims they make can be (easily) verified. Trust but verify.

How’s that working for you?

How’s what you’re doing now working for you? How you’re framing an idea affects how well you can sell it to yourself. Figuring out which tribe you’re a part of helps.

Once you figure out the tribe you belong to, you’ll know what motivates members of that tribe. Then you’ll be able to “sell” a better idea to yourself more easily.

For example, before you eat another triple scoop cone, you might say to yourself  “Nothing tastes as good as being _____ feels.” Knowing your tribe you might fill in the blank with: being skinny, being healthy, being kosher, or whatever’s important to you. Maybe yours is a tribe of one and you just want to look better in your bat suit.

You may be able to make the sale to yourself; especially if at some level you don’t really want to eat that triple scoop cone in the first place, maybe just a single scoop will do the trick.

Big Box or Small Cup?

More and more people are shopping online, right?

I still like shopping in stores too, even though I’m not usually a buyer. I’m just interested in what’s available and like visiting stores. Then throw in the internet, it’s appealing if you’re a person who’s curious (or if you’re a curious person too I guess) and for shopping selection it can’t be matched by any store.

Where do most people shop online? My guess is at work. Followed by shopping at home and in neighborhood coffee shops. Would you rather be in a big box store pushing a cart or relaxing in a small coffee shop with more options than the biggest box store could ever hold?

What goes around comes around. I don’t think the big boxes that have altered the retail landscape are going anywhere soon. But there seems to be lots of business being transacted in the coffee shop nearby.


Quien Sabe?

“Quien sabe” translates to “who knows?” You hear it a lot in Mexico where there’re lots of things you’ll never know.

Kent is a New Englander, an avid Patriots fan, a father of two kids, a regular dude. He works out and does some stretching for a sore back but no yoga classes or things of that sort.

During a recent visit to Mexico, he tried going to meditation. There’s a meditation group in our town that meets every Wednesday night for half an hour. We mentioned we were going and he asked if he could come try it out.

Maybe it was a chance at a quick break from the wife and kids, or maybe being in a new environment makes you more willing to try new things, or maybe it was a little bit of curiosity.

On the walk over, I explained that you just sit for a half hour focusing on your breath going in and out of your nostrils. And when you notice your attention wandering off, simply return it to monitoring your breathing again, and again, and that’s how it goes. The idea being that your mental chatter slows down and you can be more in the present moment. Meditation is one of those simplex things – simple but also complex, both at the same time. He said it made sense.

So we had a sit, with all the usual suspects, for 30 minutes. Kent said he liked it and that his legs got a bit tired. I’m not sure meditation will muscle out any of his current activities, quien sabe? A little bit of curiosity can go a long way.


Deceptive Looks

This is a field note from tropical coastal Mexico. A couple of nights ago I spotted one of the insects you see on the right. In Mexico we call them “cancles” or “limpa casas” (house cleaners). In English they have a name as scary as they look, tailless whip scorpions.

Cancles’ looks are deceiving. They’re related to scorpions but aren’t poisonous. There’s no tail like you’d see on a true scorpion ( hence “tailless”). And their front legs have evolved into long thin sensors (the “whip” part of their name) to help them feel their way along.

They’re harmless to us but not to other bugs, resulting in their “house cleaner” nickname. Because they’re nocturnal and skittish you don’t see them very often, but when you do it’s memorable. They look strange. Bigger ones might have a body the size of a small thumb and their legs would span your open palm.

This family of bugs has members all over the world in similar climates and they all look intimidating. Some cultures feared cancles and falsely attributed all sorts of dangers to them even though cancles are actually beneficial predators of other bugs. You can’t always judge something by how it looks.