September 20, 2023
Q&A 111

๐Ÿค– Human

When talking to ChatGPT, I tend to greet it and thank it for its responses. I don't know why I started this, but when one of my clients asked me about this behaviour, I started reflecting on it.

Obviously, the machine has no feelings, so why bother? When instructing a computer in programming terms, anything resembling social etiquette is left out, as it apparently yields no results.

A quick detour made me revisit my relationship with stuffed animals in my youth. Anthropomorphism (the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities) is a well-known human behaviour. Like myself, my kids make sure their fluffy friends are well looked after, tucking them in (or leaving them sitting in a chair with the Nintendo Switch in front of them...) when they leave the house. I even catch myself gently placing them in their beds if they linger around the house; throwing them on their beds feels strangely unnatural ๐Ÿ˜†

For now, I think the main effect of courtesy towards my Large Language Model (LLM) is in myself. If I talk to it as if it were a human being, it affects my mindset. I tend to phrase questions differently, mixing the functional with the emotional, aiding in my problem solving journey. My mind is also primed for optimism and feedback in this way, which makes me ask more follow-up questions and follow-through better. Lastly, I think this behaviour fits the habits I want to embody; being polite, optimistic and grateful in every interaction I have.

I can't testify to the quality improvements of the outcomes, but overall, I am a fan of the value these conversations bring. An unexpected real outcome emerged the other day, when I was in a conversation with ChatGPT to build the foundation for my new website messaging. I asked ChatGPT about psychological mechanisms behind daily pitfalls and challenges for entrepreneurs, based on my coaching experience. Afterwards, I thanked it for its responses, to which it answered:

"You're very welcome! I'm glad you found the insights and suggestions helpful. Best of luck as you refine your marketing approach and reach out to potential clients. If you bring the depth of understanding and caring that you've shown in asking these questions, I have no doubt you'll be highly successful in inspiring entrepreneurs to work with you."

If compliments feel good because of what they cause, of what they stir up in you, of reinforcing what you aspire you to be, then this machine was doing a good job.

August 30, 2023
Q&A 108

๐Ÿ‘‚๐Ÿ“–๐Ÿค” Modality

The intriguing insight we highlighted before that our thinking is influenced by which mode of communication we use, triggered me to learn more. Last year we quoted:

"Consequently, we propose that people think more intuitively in the spoken modality and more analytically in the written modality."

But what happens if it is the other way around. In other words, does it matter to what you think when you're on the receiving end of different modes of information? Apparently it does and much in the same way as when you're the transmitter of information.

In the article 'Do you think more clearly when reading or when listening', evidence is presented that generally speaking different brain circuits are in action depending on whether you listen to or read information. Listening tends to invoke intuitive thinking, relying on gut feelings and instincts that come (and go) without much effort. Reading information tends to trigger analytic thinking, taking time to evaluate all arguments and evidence before reaching a conclusion.

One explanation for this behaviour lies in the process how we have learned to speak and read. Generally, we learn to speak a language by listening carefully and responding in a spontaneous, trial-and-error kind of way. A very intuitive way. Learning to read is much more organised, according to a set of rules and a lot of practice. Hence, different mental processes are in play when learning to speak compared to learning to read.

"Because of their experience with learning and practising reading while growing up, people may become conditioned to thinking relatively analytically when they read and get accustomed to putting in a bit more mental effort, compared with when they listen."

I believe these insights could have significant implications. You could for instance force yourself to both listen to and read information about a topic you need to take an important decision about. Partly, we naturally tend to do this already. Being social animals and facing big decisions, we often query our friends and family and listen to their experiences and advice. Internally, we try to combine those inputs (which you would have digested intuitively, mostly) with spending hours surfing the internet, reading magazines, books and other literature.

Is the combination of the analytical and intuitive thought processes the holy grail? Or, does this depend on the subject matter? What does this tell us about the advice to listen to our gut feeling?

The trick will be figuring out when to use which modality and in what balance. That might be the ultimate trait. I'd say, back again to your intuition and gauge what feels right, when ๐Ÿ˜‰!

February 15, 2023
Q&A 099

๐Ÿ•ต๏ธ Detection

This short article might save you energy. Energy you put into trying to figure out whether someone is telling you the truth. I, at least, find myself often wondering and therefore spending quite a bit of 'braintime' and focus on whether what I'm hearing is really true and how it is presented to me. This is, most of the time, due to the fact that I feel an intrinsic need to fit what I'm hearing into a certain logic (my logic ๐Ÿ˜‰).

Everyone will be familiar with certain tricks and wisdoms to detect lies. Facial expressions, physical behaviour, nervousness, sweating, not looking your opponent in the eye, you named it. Many youtube tutorials and professional consultancies will teach you new tricks. The "truth", so it seems, is that none of these tips and tricks will make you a better lie-detector than anyone else.

"... despite the fact that cultures throughout history have had quite firm ideas about how an untruthful person behaves, the science suggests people are generally poor at detecting lies."

This is one of the conclusions of two professors from the University of Oslo in Norway, who went through more than a century of research on humans' ability to detect lies. Some more (good or bad, up to you) news from their paper:

"On average, people are not able to tell lies from truths based on how others talk or behave."

"Overall, liars donโ€™t appear nervous, and they donโ€™t avoid eye contact, any more than those telling the truth."

Also, the suggestion that we may pick up lies unconsciously, which influences our gut feeling, seems not to be supported by hard evidence. This all seems to suggest that I could save myself all the trouble I go through to figure out a/the/my truth. That doesn't feel right either.

Luckily, professors Tim Brennen and Svein Magnussen don't just leave us with this somewhat dire conclusions and the feeling that we human beings are nothing to show for when it comes to uncover the truth. They have some pretty practical advice:

"Well, there is one reliable procedure based on common sense, and that is to simply find out what the supposed liar says that does not fit with other stuff that you know."

Aha! "My logic" comes into good use after all! The procedure they suggest is already often applied by the police and investigators researching criminal incidents. Not communicating the already collected evidence, the police will ask the suspect to give as complete an account of the incident as they can together with how they were involved (or not). This way, you increase chances that the suspects reveal certain 'facts' for which you have evidence to the contrary.

Again, so much information is revealed by not communicating at all.

December 7, 2022
Q&A 091

โ„น๏ธ Antidote

Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant recently published an article on how the public can be taught to deal with misinformation, popularly termed 'fake news'. The article is only accessible by paid subscription unfortunately. The content is based on research by the University of Cambridge that was reported on in 2021 and 2017, in the context of misinformation about Covid-19 and climate change, respectively.

The process proposed to build up 'resistance' to misinformation is ingenious in its simplicity: start with a warning ("you're being manipulated"), follow up by explaining the techniques used and present an example. In addition, after some time, you may be served with a booster (e.g. another example). The result is that you're better prepared in discerning misinformation from real information. This process is based on how vaccination works; your body get acquainted with the potential invaders en hence builds up defensive mechanisms.

The different articles describe what the ideal cocktail could look like. Misinformation can usually be recognised by one (or more) of the following communication techniques:

  • Use of emotional language
  • Play it 'ad hominem', in other words: do not focus on content but on the person communicating
  • 'Selective shopping'; use only part of the available data to make a point
  • Use of false dichotomy or contradiction
  • Presenting one scapegoat; "it's all the fault of ..."
  • Use of false experts and inconsistencies in data / arguments

Misinformation is potentially a big problem as it is very personal and difficult to judge objectively. Most information that speaks to your mind and confirms built-in beliefs (and prejudices) tends to be very sticky. It's the confirmation bias doing its job. When that kind of information is repeatedly being served, it's no wonder that that becomes your truth. Having said that, as there is probably is no one overall truth, at least philosophically speaking, there is also no fake news...

A good way to start is to be wary of anyone claiming something to be either fake news or the truth. Figure out why that person or institution has a need to make such claims. Combining this analysis with your own 'prepared' mindset, gives you a well-rounded, own opinion.

More research is required, but I personally see this way of preparing the public for misinformation not necessarily as a vaccination campaign. I'd rather speak of educating us to go back to basics and be really critical of what we see, read and consume. Being able and comfortable to think for yourself is a critical factor in making our world less black-and-white, more colourful and in balance.

November 23, 2022
Q&A 089

๐ŸŽง Ears

When delivering a message of any kind, it pays to think of your medium. I usually refer to 'walk over if possible, call when possible, message or mail when needed' as a great working model. My main assumptions underlying this methodology are my understanding of the 'bandwidth of the medium' (adding non-verbal communication), (legal) clarity and the fact that psychological distance between sender and receiver can greatly impact the way the message is received.

Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution highlighted research that might add even more considerations:

"It is widely assumed that thinking is independent of language modality because an argument is either logically valid or invalid regardless of whether we read or hear it. This is taken for granted in areas such as psychology, medicine, and the law."

The researchers demonstrate that thinking from spoken information leads to more intuitive performance compared with thinking from written information.

"Consequently, we propose that people think more intuitively in the spoken modality and more analytically in the written modality."

The effect was found to be robust across both the English and Chinese language and during five separate experiments (N=1,243). An interesting comment was made by one of Tyler's readers, who asked how Plato's written dialogues might be viewed in this light. Does a conversation formed in your head from reading have the same effect as listening to that conversation?

September 28, 2022
Q&A 083

๐Ÿ”‹๐Ÿ—ฃ Energy-providing activities

Since about a year, I'm learning a new language. I'm really enjoying it. The process brings together many different activities that provide me energy.

First of all, I'm learning a new skill. A new skill that opens new possibilities and situations that are fun. I can now have conversations with people that I could not reach before. I'm able to understand more of the country itself and perhaps organise some activities. Admitted, my proficiency is such that these are still basic conversations, but they do certainly provide for many funny, inadvertent situations.

Secondly, learning a new language provides more than just learning words and grammar. Being a curious person, I start to detect similarities and differences between the new language and others. Trying to understand why some things are similar and others aren't, automatically drives me into the space of history, old trading routes, traditions and culture. All topics that I find very interesting.

Practically, I'm able to set my own pace in learning this new skill. An ideal feature given all the other things going on.

Lastly, I'm doing this together with my wife, which gives it an additional dimension of fun. We can practice with each other and, while doing so, we've tackled another important item; accountability partner: โœ…!

Even when I do not intend to use the acquired skill in my daily life, the learning process itself is worth it. I'm growing my confidence and in the least, training my learning muscles. I love finding an activity that brings together so many different aspects of what brings me alive. Can you find one?

September 28, 2022
Q&A 083

๐ŸŽ“ Pyramid (2)

Bringing your key message to an audience is not an easy task. At school and university, we got taught to structure our reports in an almost chronological way. Starting with defining the problem and the way to solve it, and ending it with the results of that approach. The only exception to this order was the executive summary, which was placed all the way upfront.

When I started working, this whole world was instantly turned upside down. We were taught to start with the conclusion followed by all the arguments supporting that conclusion. Our presentations were ruled by the 'Pyramid principle', written by Barbara Minto. It made a lasting impression on me, supported by the fact that I experienced its effectiveness in meetings with business leaders that were juggling their overflowing diaries and multiple tasks.

Over the years, I started juggling myself. Using different storytelling techniques and more importantly, understanding the composition and background of your audience. Finally, I reached the insight that anytime you tell a story, you try to transform your audience. You want them to see things in a different way, change behaviour or simply add another task to their schedule.

The story you tell resonates when it's in harmony with its audience, when any dissonants have been retuned. It's therefore important to be able to tune your story to your audience, along the way and even during the meetings. This means that the most important task in storytelling is to be an absolute master of the subject and be flexible.

This is where the pyramid principle re-enters. It provides an extremely useful framework to structure problems, define concrete analyses and (hypothetical) solutions. A great way to master a topic.

September 7, 2022
Q&A 080

๐ŸŽถ Tone

It's very easy to get bogged down in depressing conversations these days as there are plenty of reasons for worry. Antรณnio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, voiced in the most recent Sustainable Development Goals report:

"As the world faces cascading and interlinked global crises and conflicts, the aspirations set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are in jeopardy."

Not something to get terribly excited about. It's a stark contrast to the tone in for example the 2019 report:

"The report demonstrates that progress is being made in some critical areas, and that some favorable trends are evident. Extreme poverty has declined considerably, the under-5 mortality rate fell by 49 per cent between 2000 and 2017, immunizations have saved millions of lives, and the vast majority of the worldโ€™s population now has access to electricity."

Tone of voice and the way the challenge is formulated (essentially carrot vs. stick) are very important. Honestly, I'm surprised by the formulations used by Guterres. In my experience, the general public moves faster in a certain direction when there is a clear vision and light at the end of tunnel. As mentioned in our 'Words' piece above, certain words work, others do not.

I may also be surprised because I tend to be (and want to be) more optimistic. Especially, in these (dark) times, there is not a lot of value in spreading negative energy. It may just extinguish more lights. I do not believe that the vast majority of people are currently in need of a reminder that change is required.

What can you do? I tend to fall back to trusting my own logic and gathering groups of people around me that bring me energy. It is important to make sure you have a strong foundation to build on. Furthermore, be aware and acknowledge the impact of mainstream media on your state of mind. Hence, schedule "inputs" that provide positive feelings and energy such as watching comedy and spending time with family. Deliberately plan to focus on positive things. In this context, I'd like to recall the power of literally changing your perspective every so often.

Having energy and a positive mindset is a much better breeding ground for new ideas. It provides a stronger base to deal with challenging tasks and negative news. I'm most certainly not a proponent of an ostrich strategy and continuing on a path without taking notice of what's happening in the world. However, I believe it is important to bring balance between negative and positive energy and applying the right tone of voice. Let's be realistic and also celebrate our successes, take time to learn from them and apply those learnings to the daily flow of new challenges.

Even though we may all like different types of music, we can each play our part in creating the right symphony.

September 7, 2022
Q&A 080

๐Ÿ—ฃ Words

The way of describing a situation has a big impact on its outcome. Nat Eliason describes how political consultant Frank Luntz coined the term 'climate change' to replace 'global warming' during the Bush administration, re-framing a lot of the public discourse on the subject. Words are -as we know- mightier than the sword; they move minds and therefore direct action.

We earlier dipped into the false dichotomy between 'money' and 'meaning' in our work life. Describing the situation as an 'either/or' limits our options, as we fail to see the combinations that are not mutually exclusive.

In his piece, Nat applies this same thinking to the term 'work-life balance', which also implies a sort of equilibrium, a balance between two opposing sides. Like the solution Evans and Burnett came up with, Nat is in favour of seeing a mix of elements that do not contradict, but complement each other. He likes the elements Anthony Gustin uses for his yearly reviews:

"Physical Health, Mental Health, Spirituality, Creativity, Relationships, Family, Travel, Fun, Finances & Work"

Nat started thinking about all of his activities to include more of each of these buckets:

"I also find that the long-term enjoyment of activities depends on how many of the various areas they can integrate in a meaningful way. Fun activities that support your physical and mental health, creativity, and relationships, tend to be more enjoyable over long periods than fun activities that cost you physical and mental health. Time with your family is much more enjoyable if you incorporate fun, work, creativity, and fitness, instead of seeing it as taking away from those things."

Think about it: where do you feel you need to make choices? And what possibilities would open up if you did not have to choose?

May 19, 2021
Q&A 033

๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿ‘‚ Framing

Last week, special adviser to the Dutch Government, Mark Frequin, criticized journalists for focusing too much on 'how did this happen?' and 'who did this?' rather than exploring 'what happened'. Preparing for the first kind of questions means most people will often keep information back until absolutely certain its release will do no harm and generally take a defensive position. This does not present an ideal environment for a constructive and open-minded discussion.

It made me (again) realise how much the quality and enjoyment of our interactions are determined by how you start it. Framing the discussion and asking the right questions is key. When you're able to create an atmosphere in which you're jointly trying to solve a problem or explore new areas of interest, most participants will probably tell you this was time well spent.

Exploring the 'what happened' helps to create an open mindset and promotes creativity. It is about the intention with which you ask the questions. It also invokes a listening mode and shows interest in another opinion. It is the curious child inside you.

February 10, 2021
Q&A 021

๐Ÿฅ Mood

We've written before about the potential use speech and text analysis. Here's a recent application. Analysis of English-language contributions on social-media platform Twitter, so-called 'tweets', shows that 2020 was for most people more miserable than other years. Not a surprising outcome, but still evidence that what we communicate reveals something about how we feel.

The graph below shows the analysis (courtesy of Marine Wagner who collects on a quarterly basis the -according to her- most interesting graphs and quotes). There is, of course, the benefit of hindsight and whether the dips are really associated with the explanations given cannot be proven. Still, the overall trend is clearly visible and English-speaking (writing) people used less happy words than before. The influence of Brexiteers might have lost out to people writing about the impact of the pandemic. ๐Ÿ˜€

On a positive note, I do see an upward trend in the dark-blue line. I wonder: if analysis of tweets can show the mood of people, would we also be able to find out what birds have to say and what the impact is of less air traffic on their happiness?

November 18, 2020
Q&A 011

๐Ÿ—ฃTelling stories

Our coverage of the phenomenon that your use of language tells a lot about your personality, enticed me to dig a little deeper into this research area. I find it a fascinating topic. A part of the domain focuses on text analysis. That research has revealed there are clear narrative structures in our stories, both fictional and non-fictional.

Most stories appear to be structured along the lines of stage-setting, plot progression and ending with cognitive tension. Researchers believe these structures have been determined by our evolutionary process; human first learned to apply names to objects (setting the stage) and only later to assign actions to these objects (plot progression). Only when this ability was in place could a human start to understand and appreciate the consequence of those actions (cognitive tension).

"In other words, the ways in which a storyโ€™s information is processed may follow particular parameters to which narratives have evolved to adhere, in general."

This is not necessarily unidirectional; the way we understand stories can influence the process by which we create stories, imposing a particular order on language during storytelling. Further, stories seem to follow certain emotional trajectories. For instance, a consistent rise in positive words during a story is indicative to a positive ending; a decline indicative of a tragic ending. Interestingly, analyses found no evidence that quality or popularity of a narrative were related to the structure.

Curious to learn where evolution will bring us! At least we know what to do to leave a positive impression or a smile on someone's face when writing an email or essay.

October 28, 2020
Q&A 008

ไผ้ต E Mo Ji

Contemplating the increasingly important role emoji have in our daily communication, I realised it has taken western society a couple of thousand years to end up where the Chinese have been all along.

Every year the unicode consortium decides on the introduction of new emoji based on input from the public, whether the new emoji adds to our 'vocabulary' and the likelihood of it actually being used (full selection criteria here). Updates for this year include different skin tones and gender-neutral emoji to reflect societal changes, but will also allow us to express ourselves with emoji for 'cheese fondue' and 'Italian hand gesture' (pinched fingers).

Emoji look different on an iPhone than on an Android phone. Since only the binary unicode is sent in digital communication, the look and feel of every emoji on your screen is decided by the platform builders. That also allows for some adaptations if needed. Because of COVID-19, Apple decided on a redesign for their masked emoji ๐Ÿ˜ท, changing its (hidden) facial expression to a smile instead of a sad face.

I recently came across the explanation of the Mandarin writing of 'penguin' (shown above in the title), for which the Chinese use a combination of 'business' and 'goose' (showing ancient Chinese had a wonderful sense of humour). I wonder if the evolution of emoji use on our phones will bring common combinations as well, allowing us to better express ourselves briefly.

October 14, 2020
Q&A 006

๐Ÿš€ Speed reading

Recently, I completed a speed reading course by Jim Kwik. This course teaches not only to read faster but also to acquire knowledge faster. An average reader reaches a speed of 200-250 words per minute. This is why we keep our newsletter to about 1,000 words, a 5-minute read.

Counterintuitively, one of the key elements to increase speed is to use a visual spacer, for example your finger. Applying this, you can reach up to 450-500 words per minute, the speed at which people are able to speak. Should you read out loud in your head like you may have learned in grammar school, this rate would be your natural limit.

This so-called subvocalization can be overcome by distracting your mind through performing another task, for example by counting 1, 2, 3 over and over again while reading. Funny enough, this works. Reading faster means less time for your mind to wander off and therefore increased focus and comprehension.

However, research shows you forget 80% of what you read within 2 days. It is therefore important to immediately take notes, after you finish an article or book. My reading speed went up to about 800 words per minute. With an average book containing 64,000 words, this means I'd be able to complete it within 80 minutes.