Using Peer Pressure to our advantage

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful... Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people's transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Unleashing Change

Allow a sense of pragmatism to hang over every project. This will help to make room for other possibilities besides our originally chosen path. If you fall in love with your creation and marry your effort, you may join the most frustrated of groups--people who fight the process rather than allowing their efforts to become living documents of creativity, which are always in process. You have to make room in your head for change to be a part of that process rather than seeing it as something extra, a burden beyond what is necessary. Make room for change before you start your task and then you'll be ready to adopt to shifting circumstances, new revelations, and emerging goals.


Stephen Goforth

The one-sided Cycle

The ancient wisdom from Ecclesiastes that tells us that there is a time for living and dying. East and West have traditionally taken opposite positions in relation to this cycle. Eastern religions have traditionally embraced the letting-go that characterizes the ending aspect of the cycle. Western thought, on the other hand, has tried to get the most out of the other aspect of the cycle—the identifications, the embodiments, the actualizations that are associated with the transition phase of beginning again in a new cycle. This approach makes an ending into a breakdown and even a failure. To be fair, the East has its own one-sidedness too. It identifies with letting go and ending, and all the things that are produced by beginnings are dismissed as illusion. The letting go is no longer a dynamic process but a state of detachment.

William Bridges, The Way of Transition

The Secret of Success

Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle. Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning.

The problem here is that you rarely take away from these inspirational figures advice on what not to do, on what you should avoid, and that’s because they don’t know. Information like that is lost along with the people who don’t make it out of bad situations or who don’t make it on the cover of business magazines – people who don’t get invited to speak at graduations and commencements and inaugurations.

The actors who traveled from Louisiana to Los Angeles only to return to Louisiana after a few years don’t get to sit next to James Lipton and watch clips of their Oscar-winning performances as students eagerly gobble up their crumbs of wisdom.

In short, the advice business is a monopoly run by survivors. As the psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, “A stupid decision that works out well becomes a brilliant decision in hindsight.” Before you emulate the history of a famous company, Kahneman says, you should imagine going back in time when that company was just getting by and ask yourself if the outcome of its decisions were in any way predictable. If not, you are probably seeing patterns in hindsight where there was only chaos in the moment. He sums it up like so, “If you group successes together and look for what makes them similar, the only real answer will be luck.”

Entrepreneur Jason Cohen, in writing about survivorship bias, points out that since we can’t go back in time and start 20 identical Starbucks across the planet, we can never know if that business model is the source of the chain’s immense popularity or if something completely random and out of the control of the decision makers led to a Starbucks on just about every street corner in North America. That means you should be skeptical of any book promising you the secrets of winning at the game of life through following any particular example.

David McRaney Read more here

Keep Marching

Keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of changes taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success.

Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Live

How to be lucky in life

According to psychologist Richard Wiseman, luck – bad or good – is just what you call the results of a human beings consciously interacting with chance, and some people are better at interacting with chance than others.

Over the course of 10 years, Wiseman followed the lives of 400 subjects of all ages and professions. He found them after he placed ads in newspapers asking for people who thought of themselves as very lucky or very unlucky. He had them keep diaries and perform tests in addition to checking in on their lives with interviews and observations. In one study, he asked subjects to look through a newspaper and count the number of photographs inside. The people who labeled themselves as generally unlucky took about two minutes to complete the task. The people who considered themselves as generally lucky took an average of a few seconds. Wiseman had placed a block of text printed in giant, bold letters on the second page of the newspaper that read, “Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.” Deeper inside, he placed a second block of text just as big that read, “Stop counting, tell the experimenter you have seen this and win $250.” The people who believed they were unlucky usually missed both.

Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.

David McRaney -read more here

The Geography of Cancer

Chance has a genius for disguise. Frequently it appears in numbers that seem to form a pattern. People feel an overwhelming temptation to deduce that there is more to the events they witness than chance alone. Sometimes we are right. Often, though, we are suckered, and the apparent order merely resembles one.

To see why, take a bag of rice and chuck the contents straight into the air.

Observe the way the rice is scattered on the carpet at your feet. What you have done is create a chance distribution of rice grains. There will be thin patches here, thicker ones there, and every so often a much larger and distinct pile of rice. It has clustered.

Now imagine each grain of rice as a cancer case falling across a map of the United States.

Wherever cases of cancer bunch, people demand an explanation. The rice patterns, however, don’t need an explanation. The rice shows that clustering, as the result of chance alone, is to be expected. The truly weird result would be if the rice had spread itself in a smooth, regular layer. Similarly, the genuinely odd pattern of illness would be an even spread of cases across the population.

This analogy draws no moral equivalence between cancer and rice patterns. Sometimes, certainly, a cancer cluster will point to a shared local cause. Often, though, the explanation lies in the complicated and myriad causes of disease, mingled with the complicated and myriad influences on where we choose to live, combined with accidents of timing, all in a collision of endless possibilities that, just like the endless collisions of those flying rice grains, come together to produce a cluster.

Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot, The Numbers Game