Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Payoff - The Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations

Dan Ariely’s book "Payoff, The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations," is reflective and focused on how leaders motivate people, being heavily influenced by Viktor Frankl’s celebrated work "Man’s Search for Meaning".

Based on research all over the world, the book documents the consistent failures in understanding what really motivates people and consequently, what ends up killing motivation (even when the efforts are to strengthen it). Ariely gets to the truth of motivation and shows that performance bonuses can actually reduce performance.

Studies show gratitude and compliments are better motivators and that "acknowledgment is a kind of human magic.” Other factors that truly motivate people also include praise, meaningful work and a real connection to the people you work with.

The thing is that work, like life, is full of aggravations  which means that, sometimes, as Ariely acknowledges, "you cannot rely on your leaders to motivate you or create your meaning. You have to do it yourself."

Click to learn more and watch the TED Talk 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Damásios; "Robots never will have feelings" (or why intelligence is not the same as sentience, consciousness and self-awareness)

Last weekend, Expresso published a long, in-depth and extraordinary interview with Hanna and António Damásio, renowned researchers of the neurobiology of mind and behavior. This is a "must read" and a "piece of art testimony"  written by Clara Ferreira Alves. 

"emotions" and "feelings" are terms used in daily life in an interchangeably way, showing how closely connected emotions are with feelings. However neuroscience considers emotions as complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli. When a person is afraid of something, heart begins to race, mouth becomes dry, skin turns pale and muscles contract; that is the emotional reaction that occurs automatically and unconsciously. Feelings will occur after becoming aware in the brain of such physical changes; only then, we experience the feeling of fear.

Understanding the importance of feelings is one of the core concepts to understanding many of the discussions around the vision of a "strong AI" from were Silicon Valley seems not willing to give up on. 

But, while DeepMind has surpassed humans on the GO game a couple of years after IBM Watson won on Jeopardy contest,  this will sum up to be examples of not a "strong AI" but a "forced AI". If one asks Deepmind or Watson to play Monopoly they won't even know where to start, as they are both AI systems designed to play a specific game and not any type of game (neither to figure any kind of game by themselves). But yes, such AI systems will continuously be programmed to surpass humans and do good stuff as well as terrible stuff, also continuing to be feed the statement of an "artificial intelligence that is more artificial then intelligence".

The Damásios arguments are that intelligence is not the same as sentience (the ability to perceive or feel things), consciousness (awareness of one’s body and environment) and self-awareness (recognition of that consciousness). 

This means a machine or an algorithm can be as smart (of even smarter) than humans, but still lack such capacities and thus, intelligent agents (such as robots) will never have feelings.

"If you do not have a life, you can not experience the joy of being alive".  
From a life time dedicated to research, the Damásios say there are not evidences in favor of the idea that the engendering of feelings in humans would be confined to the cerebral cortex. On the contrary, "based on anatomical and physiological evidences, subcortical structures and even the peripheral and enteric nervous systems appear to make important contributions to the experience of feelings."  This is the same to say that however an ultra-intelligent agent can be, if such agent is not aware of itself, it is not incapable of feeling emotions and thus, it can not experience sensations of any kind - neither the color orange neither the taste of an orange.

This is why in their vision; "Silicon Valley is full of very dangerous people (...) that believe they own reason (...) and because they lack the human argument, they feed a sort of technological & scientific fanaticism (...)."  

Assertively, they refer to people like Ray Kurzweil (famed futurist and Google executive) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI); " (...) powerful fanatic people that want to buy immortality." 

Presenting his new book - The strange order of things -  at Lisbon's public school holding his name, António Damásio said " (...) without education, men will kill each other."

Click to watch the first lecture of Copernicus Festival 2017 entitled "The Strange Order of Things: Homeostasis, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures" delivered by Antonio Damásio.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How to Have a Positive Powerful Presence

Being powerful means that people experience something, positive or negative, when in the room with you and to ensure you have a positive powerful presence is a conscious choice.

Every aspect of your presence has social meaning, including your emotions and how you are assessing the people you are with. People are “feeling you out” before you speak. Therefore, you need to develop both your cognitive and sensory awareness to ensure people feel safe and uplifted by your presence.

How to do so?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) experience

Mindfulness, by definition, is the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, a process developed through the practice of meditation and other similar training, incorporating significant elements of Buddhism namely the development of self-knowledge to gradually lead to what can be described as enlightenment or freedom from suffering.  The popularity of Mindfulness is generally considered to Jon Kabat-Zinn (Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School) that as practitioner of yoga and studies with Buddhists led him to integrate such teachings with scientific findings, creating in 1979 the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program aimed at treating the chronically ill.

This program sparked the application of mindfulness ideas and practices in Medicine for the treatment of a variety of conditions in both healthy and unhealthy people. MBSR and similar programs are now widely applied in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other environments.
Mindfulness practices are inspired mainly by teachings particularly from Buddhist traditions and one of MBSR's techniques - the "body scan" - derives from a meditation practice ("sweeping").

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to enroll at my first Mindfulness course at Budadharma and this summer, I finally  had the change of completing the the MBSR course with João Palma in a 
group program focused in the progressive acquisition of mindful awareness, with a calendar of eight sessions workshops, a one-day retreat  and homework. Learning formal techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scanning and yoga postures are at the center of the MBSR program that is based on basic principles such as non-judging, non-striving, acceptance, letting go, beginner’s mind, patience, trust, and non-centering. 

One of the biggest causes of stress is ruminating or repeating a certain stressor that causes the brain to start and repeat a thinking pattern and stay there. Mindfulness practices teach (train) our brain to pop up out of that pattern and recognize it for what it is: a default state from where we have a choice to step out of. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

TED Prize 2007 - "No one should die because they live too far from a doctor"

The TED Prize amplifies big ideas from visionary leaders, to spark global change. Each TED Prize winner receives $1 million — and the TED community’s wide range of expertise and resources — to make a bold wish become a reality, that inspires thinkers and doers across the world to get involved. 

Last Mile Health is the 2017 TED Prize and winner Raj Panjabi's wish is to extend health services to all by training members of the community.  Back in 2007, with a small team of Liberian civil war survivors, American health workers and $6,000 Taj had received as a wedding gift, he co-founded Last Mile Health. Initially focused on care for HIV patients, the initiative has grown into a robust organization that recruits, trains, equips and employs community health workers who provide a wide range of services to their neighbors in most remote regions. 
In 2016, Last Mile Health workers treated 50,000 patients, including nearly 22,000 cases of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea in children. 

Raj Panjabi was ranked as one of "The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders"  by Fortune in 2015 and named to TIME's list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2016. As the winner of the 2017 TED Prize, Raj is creating the Community Health Academy, a global platform to train, connect and empower community health workers. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

#lifeinterrupted #fernandopolonio

11 months we watched him come alive even as if the body continued to fail.
Ours is a heart breaking loss; we all love(d) greatly you and your spirit.
Today as fallen the brave. Fair well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Entrepreneuship & Innovation: the language used to describe male and female is different

Professors of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Luleå University of Technology and Hanken School of Economics in Sweden recorded venture capitalists (VC's) conversations and analyzed how differently they talk about female entrepreneurs when evaluating investment proposals.

The language they use to describe the entrepreneurs plays an important but often hidden role in shaping who is awarded funding and why. 

From the experiment, one major thing stuck out: the language used to describe male and female entrepreneurs was radically different. And these differences have very real consequences for those seeking funding — and for society in general.

More broadly, this research (find more on HBR May 2017 issue)suggests that stereotyping through language underpins the image of a man as a true entrepreneur while undermining the image of a woman as the same. Such stereotyping will inevitably influence the distribution of financing, but could also have other major consequences.

Because the purpose of government VC's is to use tax money to stimulate growth and value creation for society as a whole, gender bias presents the risk that the money isn’t being invested in businesses that have the highest potential. This isn’t only damaging for women entrepreneurs; it’s potentially damaging for society as a whole.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Alpha Leader or Bonobo? When drive, competitiveness and commitment are too much..

Given the high organisational costs to companies, has the aggressive, "alpha male style of leadership" had its day? Should companies be looking for alternative models of leadership?
As pressures increases, the "alpha’s leadership style" can move from constructive and challenging to one of intimidation and even abuse. In many instances, people working for alpha male leaders suffer from low morale, high absenteeism, high levels of stress and burnout and, not surprisingly, given their dysfunctional behaviour, companies run by destructive alphas can easily go down the drain.

Manfred de Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor interestingly writes about this and how the closest relative of Homo Sapiens is not the gorilla (known for its alpha male behaviour) but the bonobo, alias the pygmy chimpanzee, which is part of a matriarchal society. 

Humans share 98.7 percent of DNA with the bonobos which create, maintain, and use social networks to manage stressful conditions, in contrast to the alpha “fight-or-flight” behavior. There is a place for alpha-behavior in organisations which need the drive, competitiveness and commitment of leadership - however this must be balanced with models of leadership that connect, build and nurture. Once this balance is achieved, organisations like Amazon (named as one of the most stressful companies to work for) will discover that employees who work without fear can be driven to new heights.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Addicted to your phone? Get into action!

Technology addiction expert, Dr. David Greenfield refers to smartphones as “the world’s smallest slot machine", explaining that just as alike these small machines operate on a variable reinforcement schedule highly addictive and neurobiological explaineded.

Addiction is a condition that results from ingestion of a substance (ex: alcohol, cocaine, nicotine, cafeine, ...) or from engaging in an activity (ex:, gambling, sex, shopping,..) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others. 

With the internet, twitter, facebook and many more, it is easy to get almost instant gratification for the desire to seek. 
Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google… 

It’s SO easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. 
Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more, becoming harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.

So, what to do? Here is a good reading and tips on how to outsmart your smartphone by using technology to limit your technology use. You might also consider the very basics such as getting your phone out of the bedroom and putting yourself on a digital diet.  

Not enough? Then take a more extreme course of action and consider Daniel Sieberg's strategy; get drastic with a digital detox - check it out and decide on a few steps you can NOW and get started.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Being in it together

I will repeat: running it's tough and it hurts. And yet I keep doing it and this is the day I've completed my 2nd half-marathon. Now, not only is running tough on the body, it is also tough on the mind - and by tough the mind, in the case of today's run - Meia Maratona de Cascais - means .. yeah, positively tough!!

It seems that our will to run is innate and humans evolved as we did because of our ability to run (as Christopher McDougall's defends in his bestselling book "Born to Run" a theory devised by Harvard scientists). Beyond the physical aspects, plenty has also been said and written about running being a sort of road to self-awareness and reliance, allowing a person to push itself to extremes and learn about its own physical and mental limitations. This is also a part of our evolution as we learn more on what are, how to accept and put in perspective limitations. 

When you are cognizant of your limitations you can use them to move forward in life - this means the more conscious we become of what limits us, the more limitless becomes our life.

Now, me and my good friends Rita, Sara and Paula have taken a compromise and made a pledge together on something that, even being a limitation for all (except for Sara that meanwhile has run a Marathon!!)  would allow us to share a breakthrough experience; to run an half-marathon together.  And yes, TODAY three of us crossed the end line together, new road that reinforces our bonding. This has got me thinking about the commitments we make, and how we keep or break them. 

When we promise something only to ourselves, it's easy to back out.
But when we make a commitment to other persons (and specially when those persons mean a lot to us) that is something that raises the stakes! We become invested in accomplishing the promise made together,  supporting each other in whatever struggles each one experiences to keep the promise, creating bonds, caring and and encouraging who ever is involved in reaching the common goal. 

So, now running is more; is about surpassing challenges that are creating a sense of connectedness, a sense of being in it together. Is about feeding a "place in my mind" of deeper level of self-awareness that supplies ways to work with limitations and even so, allowing freedom of mind that serves as key to self-motivation. 

Thank you Rita and Sara! 
Paula; we'll see you on March!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What is happiness anyway?

As humans, we typically strive for happiness, most of the times a condition that we perceive to be the opposite of suffering - meaning, if suffering is, by definition, the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship then you do not want to be in that state but instead want be to in the state of being happy.

One may tend to discussed then if these can be experienced as two as separate states of being - meaning, are we really only able to feel happy when we do not suffer? and conversely, when one is suffering is it then not possible to feel or be happy?

From my own experience, happiness isn’t a thing  - instead, happiness is the result of the combination of feelings of the things we live and experience. You are not happy - you feel (or not) happy.

For the ones that may agree with this perspective, this means that the pursuit of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life as a long lasting challenge may not make that much sense... Sustaining this perspective is the body of 
research that suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (for example, finding meaning in your work) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis.

Seems also that our general happiness is more genetically determined than anything else  but the good news is that with consistent effort this can be offset. So, while it could take years of persistence to deeply transform life (if even possible), there are some scientifically-tested strategies that have been shown to provide an immediate happiness boost. And even if such activities provide a modest increase in happiness, when practiced consistently they become happiness habits, energizing people to live their dreams and passions. 

In summary, do try to remember that under normal conditions, daily life is filled with simple things (and miracles); from the wonderful people that surrounds us to computer games or a peaceful walk in the park. Somehow we tend to take all for granted after a while, putting in front of us the challenge of thinking about a better way to appreciate and savor the good things of life. If that is the case, try this framework at Happify were you can practice, right now, and get a shot of healthy psychological nutrients.