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#110/111: Real Education

And an other book on education - mostly higher education but also K12. The book consists of two parts. In the first part he talks about the status of education in the US and in the second part he presents his recommendations.

A common dream of lots of American people is that everybody can be a superstar. They think that everybody should go to college and that schools are so bad that it’s not surprising that some people lag behind. Is that so?

Murray takes an interesting approach but not so surprising knowing his background. He takes the theory of intelligence, i.e. g in connection with multiple intelligences and talks about abilities. Most of you are somewhere below in an ability, maybe bodily-kinesthetic or musical. That’s pretty OK, but not everybody have to become a athlete or musician. However, if we talk about two other abilities: logical-mathematical and linguistic - lots of people think that everybody can become above average in them and there’s the first problem. (I will address possible solutions later)

The second problem, which is related to the first problem, is that too many people go to college. It is estimated that only 10-15% of the people have to ability to achieve B- or better in a classical liberal arts education, i.e. languages, maths, science, philosophy, history and psychology. Today, about 90% of all high school graduates want to go to college and 70% enroll.

The third problem has to do with the top 10%. These are often not challenged by school and college or miss important things besides their professional education. Murray says that these people learn to be nice but not to be good.

What could be done? The first and second problem are related and the answer is choice and individual learning. Murray gave an example of someone who had great dexterity (top 5%) but otherwise was in about the top 30% overall. He could either become a electrician with a median income of about $44k or a manager with a median income of about $88k. At first, the choice seem clear but he probably will be a superb electrician but a below average manager. And now a 25 percentile manager is making about $34k and a top electrician more than $90k. Furthermore, in economic stressful times a bad manager will rather lay off than a great electrician.

But how does this student find the alternative that he could be an electrician? Charles Murray got different parts of the solution.

The first is to discover and focus on abilities and strengths in school. If you realize that some people got strengths and not everyone is the same then you can start and cultivate them. Together with this discovery there’s a need for individual learning, that is students who are fast should go as fast as they want. There should be more flexibility in learning. I talked about all this stuff previously.

The last part is the stronger introduction of certifications instead of general college degrees. A favorite example of certifications proponents is the CPA which is acknowledge in the whole US and got a great deal of information about the ability of accountants. I personally think that certifications detached from college degrees are indeed some possibility for the future because knowledge will become more rapidly outdated and jobs will become more and more specialized.

The second part is about the liberal education in college. Some people think that liberal education have to wait till the college. This is pretty much arbitrary. Murray recommends that schools teach about history, science, literature, geography and economics in school, so that everybody will have a solid understanding of it.

The third problem goes in a different direction and Murray proposes that they learn especially about ethics. The main questions should be What is good?  and How to live a Good life? It’s important because a part of these people will later influence the public as writers, public figures or politicians and they should understand these questions and not just be nice. The second characteristics that should be learned is humility. Lots of clever humanities students that think that they are infallible because they never reached their limits. People studying maths or natural sciences nearly always reach their limits and quite fast but there are lots of people who just rush through the humanities without much trouble.

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#108/111: Punished by Rewards

This is one of the books where I just read the title and bought it. Recently, I talked with a friend about rewards and rules and we noticed that they often lead to out crawling from intrinsic motivations. He said “if I have to do something in 48 hours, I will take at least 48 hours - if I can choose my time freely, I probably will do it immediately.” You probably had similar experiences.

Some of these observations will be true. Alfie Kohen wrote lots of other books about schooling and the use of rewards, so this bit in the book is especially interesting.

His main objective is a critique of pop behaviorism, i.e. you have to give something to get something or equivalent with punishments. If I want the kids to learn about history, I have to get them grades. If I want my kids to eat healthier I have to reward them after eating. Or in business settings: If I want my employees to get three new accounts I have to pay them extra for each one. It’s so inherent in our thinking that it have to be challenged.

So what is Kohn saying about this? I read a great amount of studies and presented his findings. The first and most fundamental is that rewards often don’t work and sometimes they worsen the situation. There are some things to understand.

Firstly, rewards punish. A typical setting is some superior (teacher, boss, parent) who compliments you if you did something great. What is if your superior doesn’t compliment you? It’s basically punishment. Punishment and rewards each side of one coin. There are study that found that even compliments can be bad if they are linked to some objective. That’s important! Unexpected rewards sometimes are better than none but as long as you link it so a objective it basically become some form of punishment.

Secondly, rewards distorts your intentions. If you offer your kid a buck for each carrot she eats, she will eat more carrots because of the buck not because of the carrot. The eating of a carrot is the unpleasant thing to do to get the buck. You wanted to promote eating healthy food and instead promoted that healthy food is unpleasant.

Thirdly, rewards crowd out intrinsic motivation. There’s some kind of myth that you can add motivations, that is if you are intrinsic motivated and someone gives you money/praise/etc for doing this task that you will be even more motivated. Actually, motivation doesn’t work that way. If you are not motivated at all, then of course, extrinsic motivation motivates you to do the task. However, if you already are intrinsic motivated the extrinsic motivation can crowd your complete intrinsic motivation out and replace it with extrinsic motivation. This effect is rather famous in economics and studied in psychology.

You will probably think that extrinsic motivation isn’t good but we don’t have any alternatives. Kohn himself thinks that it’s hard because extrinsic motivators are so easy to create. Just throw some money in and you’re done. But there are alternatives which aren’t so easy to implement but have a less damaging effect.

The first one is collaboration. Work with your subordinate together to solve the problem or let him work with outer people. Alfie Kohn cites an interesting case where a mother went crazy because her child don’t wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. She tried nearly everything but she never tried to understand why her child don’t wanted to go to sleep. The same goes for pupils who come to repeatedly to late to school or unmotivated employees. Talk to them and help to solve them the problem. If you’re employee doesn’t like to work at your place then it’s probably the best for both of you that he looks for another job. It’s not the easy way but it does solve problems instead of treating symptoms.

Secondly, content is important. It’s rather easy in think about it in the schooling field. Don’t let kids learn things that are boring. For example, he talked about dates in history and I agree. The interesting thing about the Franz Ferdinand’s dead isn’t that he died on a Sunday or at June 28 but rather that this coincidence lead to the first World War. You can make probably most things interesting and you should!

The last one is choice. The more freedom you allow the more intrinsic motivated people will be. For example, he shows that for uninteresting work the best one can do is, to let people handle it the way they want. Even for interesting work this has a positive effect and the business literature begins to include it. We let people work from their home or they don’t have to be in office from 8 to 5 but rather just have to get some task done till some date. This exactly the choice which helps to increase people’s motivation.

This book got so many interesting studies in it that I recommend this book to nearly everyone but to everyone who is some form of authority: Parents, teacher, supervisors.

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#55/111: Influence

What is it about?

What influences your decisions? What have citizens’ action committee and Chinese communists in common? Robert B. Cialdini writes about different studies which analyzed how people’s decisions are influenced.

What can I learn?

Rejection-then-retreat: This technique is often applied. You request something greater to get a smaller thing done. Let’s imagine that you sell dining tables. You could take your customer to the cheapest table in the hope that he will buy that, at least. Or you could take him to the most expensive, which he will probably reject and then move to cheaper ones. Not really surprisingly the second approach works far better. However, it is surprising that your customer will also be more satisfied because you retreated.

Lowballing: This is an interesting technique outside of business, where it is probably illegal. Cialdini talks about an experiment where citizen signed for an initiative to make their city prettier. Some weeks later they were asked if they would offer their garden to place a huge sign saying “please drive slower for your own safety”. Many more people accepted who signed for the initiative than those who didn’t. Why? Signing the initiative shifted their self-perception to being a responsible citizen. More interesting, the Chinese communists used the same technique for prisoners in the Korean war.

Social proof: This one is relatively well-known. Cialdini quotes a statistics that says that about 95% of all people are followers, i.e. if they see that most people use a product, they will also use it. If you take a step further and apply scarcity it will become more interesting. So, we got a product that people want but there isn’t enough for everybody. The triggered response will probably to buy the product as fast as possible.

Conclusion

What a great book! There are lots of insights and awesome stories, raging from door-to-door sales people to Chinese communists in war to a doomsday cult which was infiltrated by two psychology professors. If you haven’t read this book yet, go to Amazon, your next bookstore or the next library and read it! Recommendation!

Link

efficiency:

Restaurants are great test labs for testing neuromarketing techniques. It’s easy to change offerings, menus, and pricing, and one gets immediate feedback on what’s working and what’s not.

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#9/111: :59 Seconds

What is it about?

Prof Wiseman writes about a lot of psychological misconceptions in various topics like creativity, relationships or happiness. For each of these topics he cities scientific studies, busts old myths and gives valuable tips.

Key points?

There is many great material in this book, so here is an example. You want to come up with a creative solution to a problem: You can brainstorm with a group, brainstorm alone or solve a hard word puzzle. Which one will you take? If you believe in scientific studies, the last one. Researchers have shown that brainstorming in groups decreases the quality and quantity of ideas. The best way is ask your subconsciousness. But how?

Think about your problem for some seconds. Now you have to distract your consciousness mind. E.g. try to solve a hard word puzzle. If you have finished think another some seconds about your problem and write down your solutions.

Conclusion

This book is just tremendous. There is so much actionable advice in this book about a bunch of different topics. The best thing: This advice got a scientific background, it is not just happy world advice. Furthermore, Richard Wiseman cities studies which shows that a lot of this self-help literature is not helping at all or is actually worsening the situation.