Monday, December 19, 2016

Extended travel affects personality; becoming a different person when hitting the road

In some ways we are all the same - we all have the same human nature and we all share a common humanity. We all have human bodies and human minds; we all have human thoughts and human feelings. What makes us different seems to be the characteristics we think of as personality, many of the times sufficient enough to describe differences between people. 

PEDES is a research project launched by the Department of Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment at the Friedrich Schiller University aimed at contributing to a better understanding of personality development in general. One of the fields of study has been the interplay between personality and international mobility experiences in young adulthood. 

The research focus has been on the basic personality traits (referred to as the Big Five traits) which include a broad variety of characteristics people use to describe themselves and others:

- Openness (characteristics such as openness to ideas, to actions, and to values)
- Conscientiousness (dutifulness, self-discipline, achievement striving)
- Extraversion (gregariousness, warmth, assertiveness),
- Agreeableness (altruism, trust, compliance),
- Neuroticism (anxiety, hostility, vulnerability to stress)

Authors argue that international mobility is a relevant life event for the personality development of young adults. Extended foreign travel takes people outside of their comfort zone, since travelers have to adapt to new people and new cultural practices and
also implies to gain perspective on life, which made them less emotionally reactive to day-to-day changes. Overall, studies have confirmed the fundamental importance of personality characteristics with regard to mobility decisions.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Girls; we can have it all! (want we can not is to do all ...)

More gender equality within the business sector and a reduction of the gender pay gap can only be sustainably realised if companies follow a comprehensive approach including corporate strategy, management, operational implementation by business units and HR work organisation and monitoring, said António Ramalho, CEO of Novo Banco last Thursday November 24, at Universidade Católica.

Key-note speaker at the conference "Liderança Feminina" (with an agenda aimed at inspiring the next generation of executives with experiences&advices from professionals with solid careers and leadership), António Ramalho made a review of the last 30 years, underlining that in Portugal, women represent more than half of the total population, graduate high school at a higher rate than men and hold domain in all areas of study except engineering and industry ... still, despite that, the country ranks poorly when it comes to corporate sector, as very few women hold top management positions in companies.

Diversity continues to be a much debated topic and, regarding gender, while there's a growing consensus that it is an imperative, the progress is painfully slow. Understanding and identifying how men’s involvement in gender equality issues, both in private and public spheres, is still a key question in the Portuguese contemporary society - and, as António Ramalho said, any father will be truly interested in this discussion as many changes are still required specially in traditional male domains. Amongst those many, responsability of corporations on talent retention and future thinking business strategies.

The conference was then followed by panels and by an interesting number of role-model testemonies from women in different sectors, with quite different and interesting experiences. If there is a summary for the common realms that were discussed, I would point to the inescapable fact that change only happens when one starts demanding that it does. This means that it, when it comes to gender diversity, change also depends on "each woman (own) decision".

And with that, if I may say (and share), we women (and mothers and fathers) need to accept that each of us is part of this! So, let's tell ourselfs and our daughter:

Yes, we can have it all. (what we can not is to do all.. and that's OK).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Can we build Artificial Intelligence without losing control over it?

Last Thursday October 27, I had the chance of listening to João Valente Cordeiro, Professor of Health Law and Ethics, Science and Technology, as key-note speaker at SAS FORUM Portugal 2016.  

"On the next day, no one died - Digital Revolution, Health and (i)mortality" was the title of his captivating speach, starting on the Pale Blue Dot (taken on Feb 1990 by Voyager 1), Professor Cordeiro led the audience on a trip about our past, our present and our (possible) future and on how the exact same incredible technology developments can impact, in a myriad of forms, both positively and negatively in humanity.

Far is the old discussion of "strong vs weak artificial intelligence" - just consider that as a minimum, an AI system must be able to reproduce (mimic) aspects of human intelligence (human cognitive functions) and you will find that is the current state-of-the-art; AI (agents) are now designed to perform specific tasks such as speech recognition, natural language processing, facial recognition, internet searches, driving a car, etc...  This "specific domain AI"  allows "machines" to outperform humans at whatever specific task one can imagine; playing chess, Jeopardy or GO are examples that allow us to foresee applications of current AI systems and from personal assistants (like SIRI), to solving equations or self-driving cars, AI is progressing rapidly, encompassing a wide range of capabilities, from Google search algorithms to IBM’s Watson features and to autonomous weapons.

Though most people involved in the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing are excited about these developments, many worry that without proper planning and reflection advanced AI could destroy humanity; and in more recent years philosophers and ethicists  - like Professor Cordeiro - have given a step forward on the sincere and open discussion about the worries of the long-term future of artificial intelligence as its represents fascinating controversies for humanity.

The threat of uncontrolled AI,  Sam Harris argues in a recently released TED Talk, is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Yet most people “seem unable to marshal an appropriate emotional response to the dangers that lie ahead.” Harris explains that one only needs to accept three basic assumptions to recognize the inevitability of superintelligent AI:
  • Intelligence is a product of information processing in physical systems.
  • We will continue to improve our intelligent machines.
  • We do not stand on the peak of intelligence or anywhere near it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Positive and negative emotional attractors and Intentional Change Theory

Intentional change theory (ICT) explores the process by which individual change occurs and offers a new understanding on the role of positive and negative emotion in the process of intentional change. The positive emotional attractor (PEA) triggers constructive cognitive and physiological responses that enhance an individual's motivation, effort, optimism, flexibility, creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors. On the other hand, the negative emotional attractor (NEA) triggers another process by calling attention to current social and environmental stressors that may compromise an individual's effectiveness. 

The "PEA–NEA theory" brings together and integrates work on emotion and on the self with the advances in physiological measurement and neurological activity; using complexity theory, Boyatzis (2008) argues that these two states are strange attractors, each characterized by three dimensions: (1) positive versus negative emotional arousal, (2) hormonal arousal; and (3) neurological activation. 

In this video, Boyatzis explains the distinct psycho-physiological states of PEA and NEA and correspondet emotional, psychological, physiological, and neurological characteristics, summarized in the above table. 

In other words, PEA and NEA are self-regulating states and therefore, once a person is in either a PEA state or a NEA state, that person will remain in that state until a tipping point provokes a shift to the alternate state. And, since self-regulating systems are inherently homeostatic, unless the system is perfectly efficient (which is not the case for humans) deterioration will occur over time. 

Seems fair to assume that unless the PEA state is actively maintained over time, a person will eventually move toward the NEA even without noticing.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

Stress ... again and again

Again a post about stress - yes, because we all know stress has been made into a public health enemy. But hold on - this is something new... 

Here is a distinct perspective, from psychologist Kelly McGonigal; "the upside of stress"  with many arguments about why stress is good for us and what makes us good at stress. 

Watch this talk, filmed on June 2013 at TEDGlobal were Kelly shares and urges us to see stress as a positive, introducing a mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

The term psychopath has been around since the nineteenth-century, but was popularized by psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley back in 1941,  on the classic book "The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify Some Issues About the So-Called Psychopathic Personality. For Dr. Cleckley, the "psychopathic personality" was defined by a "relatively high-functioning, aggressively narcissistic, extraverted persona concealing an antisocial and latent psychotic core". The term seems to have been first applied people that seemed "to possess no sense of ethics or of the rights of other people". 

Currently researchers use the term “psychopath” to refer to more serious disorders linked to genetic traits that produce dangerous individuals, while using the term “sociopath” to refer to less dangerous people who are seen more as products of their environment. Using PCL-R description psychopaths are people with a “callous unconcern for the feelings of others”, what we ussually would say "coldheartedness people”. 

There are psychopaths everywhere; they are driven, focused and ussually have little remorse in their quest for success. Researchers Paul Babiak and Robert Hare have long studied psychopaths and together studied how psychopaths operate in corporations.

Results were surprising: they found that it is exactly the modern, open, more flexible corporate world - in which high risks can equal high profits - that attracts psychopaths. Many times they enter as rising stars and corporate saviors, but all too soon they are abusing the trust of colleagues, manipulating supervisors, and leaving the workplace in shambles.

Snakes Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work is a compelling book, with a scientifically look at how psychopaths work in the corporate environment, what kind of companies attract them, how they negotiate the hiring process, and how they function day by day. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Simple as doves and wise as serpents

10 of July 2016 will be a day to remember by the Portuguese people and fans. 
Portugal won EURO2016 and celebration is all around; however, the greatest moment in the history of Portuguese football has not been appreciated or applauded by some.
Twelve years after the (2004) final defeat at home against Greece, Portugal were on the other side of the barricades. France had a bus ready to party, certain they would win (did they forget the "Never underestimate your competitor " rule?), but Portugal took the joy to its country fans, that were craving for this victory for so long.

So, for the ones writting on how this victory "was not exciting", one could say;  "but it ought to have been inspiring, right?!"  This is one of those moments were the one less considered is capable of reacting when losing its best player in such an early moment, and stand ups, not falling on "the trap" and keeps moving forward, able to proceeded to winning! That's a team triumph,  that deserves acceptance and respect.
And, "it ought to be accepted as highly efficient, right?!" A key part of the road to success was coach Fernando Santos, the "old-warrior"; from moment zero he refused to confine with short term goals and intelligentely motivated all by painting the "big picture"  - "I will only go home at the end of the tournamnet and will be received at home in pure joy". His "safety-first" tactics may not appeal to everyone but who can dispute his factual efficiency?

Winning in sports is, like in life, a long, hard and winding road; it requires responsibility, courage, mental focus and persistence alongside with humility and commitment. Not failing to believe and keeping moving forward is key while commanded by leaders that know how to pace their team to peak at the right time - in Santos's words:
"We were simple as doves and smart as serpents."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The value of technology when working for humankind

Sharing two interesting articles about the value of technology for humankind:

Algorithm detects depression in speech

 USC researchers are using machine learning to diagnose depression, based on speech patterns. The depression-associated speech variations have been documented in sveral studies; depressed patient speech can be flat, with reduced variability, and monotonicity. Reduced speech, reduced articulation rate, increased pause duration, and varied switching pause duration were also observed.

Click to learn more

Robot helps nurses schedule tasks on labor floor
At the
CSAIL ( Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), the largest research laboratory at MIT and one of the world’s most important centers of information technology research, a new system is able to anticipate room assignments and suggest which nurses to assign to patients for C-sections and other procedures provided satisfactory recommendations to nurses 90 percent of the time.

Click to learn more

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Follow Your Passion" is bad advice: how to think about passion in an entirely different way.

Many of us have read about success and on the valued concept of "following your passion" ; it sounds reasonable and somewhere in life - when deciding on a path for university, on some job interview, on a career assessment, on a coaching sessions or on some other occasion -  you've probably have had someone asking “What are you passionate about?”  . Passion is often considered as a prime-key for success, presumably providing the energy, resistance and determination required to pursue and accomplish goals.

Although I embrace the concept "love what you do, do what you love", pretty much along my whole life I have found the question above extremely difficult to answer! In fact, many times I have found myself in extremes; either being passionate about many things, or being passionate about very few. For sure, many years ago, both when deciding on an academic path as well as when searching for my first job, I was simply unable to define precisely what I was passionate about. And, along the years and the many people I know, I also have found a reasonable number that, just like me, also didn't had "a passion"  and never could have predicted where they are or do today. 
And, last but not the least, my experience makes me totally agree with Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert):  “It’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out (...) but when things go down the drain, the passion can drain too (...)" and closes by saying; " (..) objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.”
Crossing these thoughts came the reading of Cal Newport's blog, where the author goes against the “Follow your Passion” principle, considered  biased from start by assuming that:
a) a person must have preexisting passion, and
b) if a person matches that passion to a job, then he /she will enjoy

Newport elaborates on more complex dynamics and debunks the Passion Hypothesis: passion is not something that you discover and then match a job to; it is, instead, something that grows (or not) over time.

Yes, Cal, I'm with you - for me and many of my close friends, preexisting passions have been rare and have had little (sometimes nothing) to do with what most of us have end up doing and/or loving about work. So, I have particularly found Newport arguments simple and refreshing (*) - on his book "So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love", he definitely makes his case; it's a fantasy to expect to feel a burning passion about work and you'll be better instead if focusing on developing crucial skills, cultivating and creating high quality work. Matching your job to a preexisting passion does not matter, Newport says, because passion comes after putting in hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before.

In other words, WHAT YOU DO for a living IS MUCH LESS important than HOW YOU DO IT. 

Here is Newport's talk at Google, providing depth on his view.

And a bit more: on his new book "Deep Work", Newport states that it is deep work that makes you good and provides the sense of true fulfillment ... And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep, spending their days in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media. A step further in his approach, explaining the mind and brain dynamics, easily explained in this quick book review.

(*) Cal Newport is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, born in 1982 and graduated in 2004.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Rising above "demons and struggles"; my first half-marathon

March 20, 2016; I have finished my first half-marathon at EDP Meia-Maratona de Lisboa.

Now, wasn't I suppose to celebrate that right away? Yes, I was. However, I took me some time to seat down, get this post ready to publish and share.

The last two weeks I had some particularly rough times, both emotionally and physically.  My anxiety has been high and the physical symptoms hard to ignore on such a level that by March 16 it would have been very easy for me to cancel running this event.  But I didn’t.

Somehow, I was able to bounce back from adversity and disappointment - and this running event became a sort of an act of defiance against my demons and struggles.
YES, I did finish this race and completed my first half-marathon.
YES, I did overcome all the fears and all the pain that stroke me along the 21K running - and that tells me that I am stronger than all that afflicts me. 

It also tells me that one does not have to be born with mental toughness. Mental toughness can be acquired - and one does not have to go through a life-threatening experience to gain it because mental toughness can be acquired by learning.
The more you try, the more you learn.
The more you learn, the more mental toughness you gain.

And the more mental tough you are, the more resilient you become with stronger ability to focus when facing unexpected circumstances. You learn not to avoid situations but instead to address them.  My half-marathon experience is a statement of truth for this; when reaching 14K, I felt dead tired, hurting, crying and wanting to quit.  I stopped running but kept walking, trying to focus on moving forward. "Another step, just keep moving" I constantly repeated to myself. 
I gathered my strength and adjusted my pace, which gave me the ability to keep moving forward. 
Suffering, I reached the 17K milestone and there I finally heard my inner voice saying - “You can do this." - There it was; faith and trust in myself.  I could (again) believe in me, even when there was no one close by to boost my confidence.  And when running the final 4K, I was really enjoying the fact that every step, even full of pain, was bringing me closer to my goal.
The end of this story for me is that glory does not have to be noticed by others. 
My own glory on this half-marathon was to kept moving my feet, against pain, against fear, against frustrations... especially, against the idea that I would not be able to rise above and finish.