News travels fast

News travels fast

Some things in life are awful. Accidents, trauma, disease can cut down anyone, at any time.

But when innocent people die from the violent act of another, words fail us.

We are left searching desperately for ways to console those most affected. When the violence is intended to intimidate we also find the need to console ourselves.

And we do. We support each other in the extreme times. Ways are found from putting out cricket bats to pavements full of flowers with the word spread far and wide through social media.

The good rapidly mobilised to push away the bad.

The modern world is so small that everyone knows about extreme events as they happen. We are so in touch that we feel close, almost part of the unfolding scene. In an instant, we are re-posting and commenting our thoughts and feelings. It is like a fire blanket thrown to suppress the flames.

And it works.

The Lindt café siege in Sydney in 2014 was a terrorist act but not about terrorism. The authorities figured this out quickly and refused to lay blame until they had more evidence. Experts came onto the television news and said the same thing reminding us that it is never smart to make assumptions about who was responsible.

So when irresponsible TV media sensationalised for their own ends the blanket smothered them. We don’t want to assign any credit by association, so those who did looked like chumps. Social media called them on their stupidity and shamed them for trying it on.

Instead, the focus was, mostly, on the collective coming together in mutual empathy because we all felt the same. Anger, fear and a little loathing yes, but also courage to stand together and stare it all down.

This new social pressure has the potential to change the reporting of tragic events. ‘If it bleeds it leads’ may still be true only it now has hashtags of uplift for victims and social support for everyone.

Maybe the days of the media mogul bent on global domination through fear mongering are coming to an end.

Wouldn’t that be a fine thing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I learnt lately about… tradesmen

What I learnt lately about… tradesmen

Tradesmen do not always know their trade

Be very careful when the builder says he is also a plumber, tiler and painter. Chances are he isn’t. He may have seen a plumber or tiler or painter at work but if he is actually a chippie then he will know how to erect a stud wall but not necessarily how to put tiles on straight.

It is a sobering but important lesson for us all.

Get good at something by all means, but then be honest about it.

Claims of competence beyond what you truly know are too easily found out.

When in doubt start a new business

When in doubt start a new business

What I learned lately about… risk

I have made a career out of avoiding the safe options in favour of not knowing where the next contract will come from. On and off for over a decade I have worked for myself.

It means being your own boss and that is supposed to be good. But it also means you are your own marketing director, project manager, sales staff and tea lady.

There are times when so many hats sit real heavy on your head and you sag. It all gets too much.

The thing is the risk is addictive, probably in the same destructive way that gambling can be. So when doubt mushrooms out of the compost the solution is to take on more risk and start another company.

Here is the website.

 

Realising what you think

Realising what you think

Recently I was asked, rather politely as it turns out, to be part of a clinical trial. It involved an interview and then an allocation to one of two subject groups. One group had access to an internet app that logs your medical numbers, allows you to set targets and activity reminders all around a dashboard that lets you know how you are tracking. The other group didn’t get the flashy app.

At random, I got the app. Lovely.

As it happens my medical numbers are pretty good for a bloke of a certain age. My BP readings always bisect the middle of the range, my cholesterol is under control and I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. Not even a drag on one. I do, however, have a genetic predisposition to furry coronary arteries.

The flashy dashboard reminds me of this with the needle on the dial resting at a sobering 25% chance of heart disease in the next 5 years.

Now if I set some goals, such as reducing my bad cholesterol levels by a third I can get my percentage chance down to, wait for it, 23%.

Now some people might want to put in the hard yards and the statins to gain that 2 percentage points of benefit. But I work with probabilities and I know that all the dietary effort and the mind-numbing statins [cholesterol reduction does affect the brain because neurons are sheathed in the stuff] are not worth it for such a modest reduction in what starts as a one in four chance.

And then I got to thinking.

Since my bypass surgery, I have been careful with myself. I eat well and exercise often and my slightly overweight body has tipped the scales under 90 kilos for 30 years.  I am also very careful not to talk about my arteries to myself or anyone else. Most people I know have no idea what has happened.

This is not denial. I know what it was like to be close enough to smell the end. It was real but I choose not to give it any more energy than it soaked up at the time.

Once the rehab was through and my annual check ups come and go, the episode and its legacy are out of my mind.

Of course, I am fortunate. The surgeon’s skill and  few complications mean that I am actually healthy,  fit and strong. Not everyone with a heart condition is so blessed.

But I contend that not agonizing or constantly reminding myself of what happened has made a difference too. Remember the mind has trouble distinguishing a thought about something as positive or negative and the only way to stop it running away with thoughts is to not have them. So for most of the time, I don’t.

Now, of course, I have an app designed to remind me all the time and I don’t like it. In fact. I think it will be psychologically damaging for me.

I doubt if the researchers who designed the app and the trial have thought about this. Their objective would be to deliver more responsibility to the patient and, with luck, reduce their anxiety. The wanted side effect being fewer visits to a healthcare facility.

Only I was not anxious, at least not until I got the app.

Profit

Profit

What I learned lately about… profit

Profit is still the bottom, and only line

You know the old saying ‘if push came to shove’ means when things get nasty and extremis arrives this is what you would do.

Well, where the corporate world is concerned, any shoving results in action to protect profit. There is, of course, pampering to other values, but the law compels directors and trustees to build shareholder value. And this sets in stone a quest for profit.

Sobering.

Post-truth wins word of the year

Post-truth wins word of the year

It’s been a big year for post-truth, the word, culminating in the prestigious word of the year award from Oxford Dictionaries. Post-truth got the nod over Brexiteer, alt-right, adulating, and, wait for it, coulrophobia, an extreme or irrational fear of clowns.

Post-truth is a noun cum adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

It has spilt from the lips of political commentators for months now as they grapple to explain away the outcome of public votes that defied all logical prediction. People must vote with their heart, not their head, how else could they ignore the obvious facts. It is post-truth.

Four hundred years ago William Shakespeare was inventing words all the time, some 2,200 by some accounts, including manager, addiction, and fashionable. He was a genius of course and used a language that readily accommodated an expanded vocabulary. He also had the knack for delving into the emotional palate of his characters and showing it to us through their speech. He also knew that facts were incidental to this emotional cauldron that was the real source of any story. He would have understood post-truth immediately.

In my day job at alloporus environmental I interpret scientific evidence for people making business and policy decisions. We have so many objective facts available today that interpreters are needed to filter out and explain those that are useful. It is a great job for a process scientist who is as fascinated by how we generate and decide on evidence as by the facts themselves.

So I review scientific literature, crunch numbers into scenarios, do some horizon and solution scanning, and try to present it all in accessible reports. The idea being to make the evidence useful for decision making.

Only there is post-truth.

No matter how secure, comprehensive and truthful the collection and interpretation of facts might be, people do not use them to make their decisions. Almost always they have decided before they see the evidence.

Unlike the juror who has no inkling of the case they are about to witness in court, most people receive facts after they have had an emotional reaction. Their opinions and decisions are formed by the events of their lives. The facts at hand have a hard time in the emotional cauldron.

In his book ‘Thinking, fast and slow’ Daniel Kahneman gives an explanation. Essentially our brains are too lazy to do the hard work of thinking and we default to a hard-wired emotional response. We intuit most things. Only our intuition is not very good at complex thought, especially where we need to analyse for or calculate a result. For this, we have to engage the thinking brain. The only problem is that this type of thinking takes work – real physical work apparently – and we find it difficult.

This makes the brain an energetically expensive organ so in evolutionary biology terms it makes sense to use it sparingly. So the fight-flee-freeze responses saved us when it mattered and left the occasional heavy thinking for evenings around the campfire.

The problem is that the default is still there. We trust our emotional cauldron more than the facts. And why not, it saved enough of our ancestors from the snake, the lion and the Neanderthals.

It is nice that we now have a word for a modern expression of this core product of our evolutionary past.

But be assured that post-truth is not new. It has always been there in our DNA.

People on trains

People on trains

What I learned lately about… people on trains

Train commuters are not real people. They morph

somewhere between their front door and the platform into aliens with few manners and an insatiable appetite for rules.

On Cityrail trains that shunt people in and out of Sydney the powers that be decided to introduce quiet carriages. There are signs in viscous orange that declare talking, music and mobile phones calls are banished to other parts of the train.

If you find yourself by choice or chance in a quiet carriage be very careful, for the aliens are lethal. They will pounce on the slightest noise, exercising their right to enforce the proclamations of the orange signs.

It is something to behold.