On The License to Cheat

This week’s book learning is the final edition of an 8 part series from The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. (Parts 123456, 7)

The final set of ingenious experiments by the Dishonesty research team (including Nina Mazar who we interviewed on Realleaders.tv) involved 2 experiments to test a question – Do certain actions have a ‘halo effect’? i.e. do they enable us to cheat more? –

1. Buy “green” products: Students were first given an opportunity to buy green/environmentally friendly products. Following this, they were tested with matrix test with the shredder condition enabling them to cheat.

2. Exposed to “green” products: Here, students were tested on the matrices with a slight twist, the room was filled with green products.

The results?
– In the buy experiment, students who purchased green products were much more likely to cheat.
– In the exposed experiment, everyone was more honest!

Similar experiments have reinforced these results meaning we have a habit of treating good acts like “karma” which we can exchange for little bits of dishonesty. That’s why super markets have green products right when we start. We buy karma and then have fattening chocolates right at the end.

This may also explain why multi billionaires make irrational donations to charities and go on to cheat on the other end to make money..

Sketch by EB

So what does this all mean? I think the conclusion here is that self awareness is critical to prevent dishonesty. We are culpable of cheating ourselves from time to time and the only way to prevent that from happening is to expose ourselves to good things and honest people (like green products).

We ought to also know that we are most culpable when we do something good. The only way to work around this is to make good habits habitual so doing good is “normal.”

I hope you enjoyed the series on Dishonesty. There are some interesting books coming up in future series. Stay tuned…

Lip Service

What we say when asked what matters most to us –

Close family and friend relationships
Happiness and fun
Career development and having an impact/making a difference at work
Personal learning and growth

What our schedules say matters most to us –

Demonstrating ability to work “long hours” to superiors and colleagues
Surfing facebook and twitter feeds
Watching Television

Where do you allocate your resources?

8 things we must stop saying.. and what to say instead

This article on Lifehacker had some sage advice for parents on things to stop saying to kids. I thought this was very good advice for everyone and I’ve taken a crack at translating the advice into what it means for the rest of us in our interaction with teammates, friends, and family.

1. For kids: Instead of “Good boy/Good girl/Good job” or “You’re so smart” – be specific e.g. I appreciate it when you cooperate or take your feelings out of the conversation and just say “I noticed you shared your food…” and allow them to decide if they liked it and continue to do it out of intrinsic motivation
For us: Focus on the effort in the process rather than the outcome. Be really specific about the behaviors that worked for you. This takes away the fluff around feedback. Start with why.

2. For kids: “I see red, blue, and yellow! Can you tell me more about your picture?” instead of  “What a beautiful picture/drawing.”
For us: Take time to understand a person’s work before throwing out a snap judgment/evaluation (good or bad). This is a great rule of thumb. I received an idea over email yesterday that I didn’t agree with – luckily, I chose not to respond as my feelings about it would have shown. Better to listen, understand, and then decide.

3. For kids: “It’s NOT OKAY to do …. I’m worried that x will happen. If you want to do.., do .. Instead. ” instead of “stop it right now, or else.”
For us: We’ve all been guilty of just saying “stop doing that” in a fit of rage. Again, explain why.

4. For kids: “Thank you so much for helping/understanding.” vs “If you ….., then I’ll ….”
For us: If you have to continually strike deals/bribe your teammates/employees with bonuses and incentives to get some extra work done, there is something else wrong. Focus on intrinsic rewards vs extrinsic rewards.

5. For kids: “It’s okay to cry. We all need to sometimes..” vs “Don’t cry.”
For us: This is one we confront when we give people bad news.

6. For kids: “I know you really want that play date and we’ll do our best to make it happen” vs “I’ll promise”
For us: Broken promises are horrible as they break trust. Take “I promise” out of your vocabulary and stick to your commitments. If you do commit to doing your best, do the best that is humanly possible. And, when things don’t go your way, take responsibility for your failure.

7. For kids: “I am sorry you’re disappointed but we can’t do that today.” vs “It’s no big deal.”
For us: Empathize with feelings even if you are saying no. What is not a big deal for us may be a huge deal for someone else.

8. For kids: “Were you feeling …..?” vs “why did you do that?”
For us: Why is an intimidating question – I’ve blogged about  this before and tend to prefer a wiser friend’s suggestion to replace it with “What made you feel like…”
The key here is to seek to understand before being understood.

1, 7, 8 are my biggest pain points on this list and I think I do 3, 4, and 6 okay.

More importantly, I found the exercise of typing this out and sharing very useful. Teaching and sharing is the best way to learn indeed.

The Dangers of Marginal Thinking

“How will you measure your life?” by Clayton Christensen inspired a lot of thinking. The concept that had the greatest impact on me is that of the dangers of marginal thinking.

When Clay started his chapter titled “Stay out of Jail,” I laughed. I highly doubted I’d ever be in the position that an insider trader, doped athlete, or corrupt politician would be. Here’s the book byte from the day –

When Blockbuster, the leading DVD rental company, first looked at Netflix in 2001, they dismissed it. They had billions of dollars of earnings thanks to their DVR renting and lucrative business model charging very expensive late fees. The late fees made sense because every ‘check out’ of a popular movie was how they made money.

Netflix turned it around by charging people per month and mailing DVRs. It made money when people didn’t rent DVRs! It was making 150 million in profits then.

The problem was that Blockbuster calculated marginal increase of pursuing Netflix. It meant a very small marginal increase on top of Blockbusters existing revenue but what Blockbuster didn’t realize is that this new product would redefine the industry’s future. They went bankrupt in 2011.

It’s not that different in our personal lives. We start on the path of wrong doing by doing something wrong “just this once.” That’s how trader Nick Leeson started out trying to wipe out a trading loss. The path led him to losing 1.3 Billion, bankrupting Bearings bank, costing 1200 employees to be laid off, losing his marriage, and being imprisoned for 6 years. The story is the same with Enron, Satyam, and all athletes who ended up doping.

No athlete starts out wanting to dope. But, one small compromise leads us down a slippery slope and we soon find ourselves in a place where we never intended to be. It might seem like one extenuating circumstance but life is a series of extenuating circumstances.

Figure out what your values are and never deviate. You can’t follow 99% of an ideal. It’s 100% or nothing.

That’s great advice. I’ve been guilty of “just this once” in the past. The funny thing about doing right is that it often costs you in the short run whereas doing wrong typically rewards you. That’s why the one compromise idea is so powerful.

100% or nothing.

Trying too hard

“Trying too hard” is a common expression in cricket describing the typical behaviour of a young fast bowler. It refers to the bowler’s desire to take a wicket off every ball. We see that with youngsters in every sport – the young football star who attempt to score every time he touches the ball and the tennis up-start who attempts to hit a winner every shot.

As they get more experienced, these youngsters learn that scoring a significant goal almost always involves a steady build up to a fantastic finish. The smart bowler sets the batsman up for a shot he might never have played. The smart footballer works with his teammates to carve open the defence. Sure, there’s the occasional audacious backhand winner that wins a point but more often than not, the winner is hit after patient build up.

And, in almost all cases, one finish is rarely enough. Build up, then finish. Build up, then finish again.

It follows then that patience is the ability most required during the course of the game. The best teams and players exhibit an extraordinary degree of patience. For inspiration, watch a YouTube clip of FC Barcelona as they carefully make their way forward with pass after pass after pass. Or watch Rafael Nadal wear his opponent down rally after rally.

It’s tempting to push our way through and always try to score. But, learning to be patient and going for goal right when the opportunity opens up is the mark of a winner.

The real benefit of starting the day early..

..is that you don’t feel behind when you get started. You can get through your morning routine relaxed, get to work early, and feel great.

When I first read Robin Sharma’s ‘wake up at 5am’ maxim, I rubbished it for a year as I was a proud “owl” i.e. the night was my preferred time for getting things done. I finally gave it a shot and over the past 2 years I’ve been waking up around 545-610am consistently and it’s been good. But, I tried out waking up at 5am last week and, boy, I could feel a world of a difference.

Getting through the morning routine relaxed without a sense of urgency is a big win – you know you don’t have to worry about an early unanswered email or task. We do remarkable work when we are relaxed because of the kind of focus relaxation brings.

Now to make 5am a habit.

Love Your Schizophrenia

We had a nice post on The Book Bytes Project the other day – “we are the rider and the elephant.” It’s a great reminder that we are all inherently schizophrenic. We all have two beings who make up our minds and every decision we take precedes a heated debate between the rider and the elephant (a brilliant metaphor for the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala by Psychologist Jonathan Haidt).

The elephant is emotional, rash, fearful, and action oriented. The rider is logical, correct, weak, and thought oriented. The best decisions made are thought through by the rider and executed by the elephant. But, the catch is that the elephant is not easy to control and, given it’s size, is more than capable of either executing in a hurry or not doing anything at all.

The elephant and the rider are the biggest reasons as to why we are guilty of inconsistency. We can easily find ourselves saying something logical and correct (the rider) and find ourselves doing the exact opposite (the elephant). And the only way forward is to love them both and to learn to learn how to work with both.

Here’s a simple example – I’ve made two early morning rules to ward my elephant off – I am not allowed to make a decision on whether or not to exercise when my alarm rings and I am not allowed to check email first thing in the morning.

The exercise decision is for a simple reason – if the powerful elephant is allowed to make up his mind first thing in the morning, I have no chance. I need to brush my teeth, wake up, summon my willpower, and then go for it.

The email decision is because the elephant begins thinking about action the moment it reads an unexpected email. This results in one of two unwelcome consequences – I either type out a response that I regret or I spend 20 minutes thinking about what needs to be done only to realize the problem wasn’t complicated; I was just drowsy and not thinking straight.

There are multiple little rules to train my elephant. He’s not the bad guy, of course. He’s just part of me. And, boy, do I need some training.. :-)

On Cultural Differences and Dishonesty

This week’s book learning is part of an 8 part series from The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. (Parts 12345, 6)

The dishonesty research team conducted a survey where students from various countries were asked about cheating in their home countries. Most believed they would cheat more than Americans with the exceptions being the Nordics and Canada. Francesca Gino (originally from Italy) and Dan Ariely (Israel) were convinced of this as well.

So, the matrix experiment was conducted in each of these countries with the reward for solving a a puzzle being the equivalent of the cost of 1/4th of a pint of beer in these countries.

The results? It turned out everyone cheated just as much! It didn’t matter whether they were in Israel, China, India, Italy, Turkey, Canada, or England. The amount of cheating (i.e. just a little bit) was consistent across human nature.

Why the difference in corruption levels? The answer lies in the fact that the matrix experiment lies outside cultural context. It just tests the basic human capacity to cheat.

Our daily activities, however, have complex cultural contexts which changes the magnitude of the “fudge” factor.

Plagiarism is an easy example – some cultures view “getting caught” as bad while others look at the act of copying as normal. Similar examples with piracy of digital content, extra marital affairs – some cultures see it as wrong while some others view it as neutral. Our cultural context plays a huge role in our attitude towards an offence. Awareness of this is the first step towards understanding why we behave the way we behave (dishonest or not :))…


Sketch by EB

When well travelled friends get together back in India, a common topic of discussion is the behavior of Indians abroad. There is always a sense of amazement that the same people who litter at home and violate every rule in the book are clean law abiding citizens in other countries. This experiment puts that behavior in context…

We are nearing the end of our series in dishonesty. Now that we know the importance of socio-cultural context in dishonest behavior, are there any other instances where ought to be extra cautious? Coming up next week..

Wish you a happy weekend and happy week!

Revamp and renewal of my approach to work

My organization system went through a revamp last weekend. The revamp was coming because of three reasons (i.e. the “why?”)

– I was running out of capacity to work on projects I really cared about – a sure sign that something is wrong
– I was beginning to feel my current style wouldn’t be sustainable once I stop being a bachelor (i.e. in 2 months) – a sign that I needed to change the way I thought of work and these inspiration projects
– I felt I was getting caught in the “busy” trap for way too long. I’d have to go back more than a year for a weekend when I just chose to do nothing and recharge – another sure sign of something being wrong

There were a bunch of insights that formed the foundation for this change.

Bursts vs drip, and remarkability. Cal Newport had a very good post on his blog on a potential link between bursts and remarkability.
Ties in with my recent observations that exceptional knowledge work happens only when you have plenty of downtime.

Stillness and wisdom. I blogged about this a month back.

Need for reflection for 2nd level insights. The learning lies in the reflection. I wasn’t setting aside enough time to just reflect. There’s no point repeatedly doing something if you aren’t  taking the time to learn and focus on what matters.

Building skills at work deliberately vs unintentionally. I realized I was building skills at work unintentionally instead of deliberately. This means I was relying on working on the right kinds of projects to get better rather than having an agenda of my own that I was deliberately working towards.

Work flows and costs of switching. These are recent observations that seem to support the work in “bursts” way of thought. I’m beginning to sense that switching between tasks takes a lot more out of me than I initially thought.

That drives me to the point of creating work flows where you bunch together similar types of thinking activities to make getting things done a smoother process. I intend to explain this in detail one of these days.

So, what has changed?

Start of tracking skills at work. This is in early stages of experimentation. The steps taken so far have been to put together a set of specific skills that apply to a consulting Associate (structure/break down a complex problem, synthesis/boil a vast amount of information to it’s specifics, Excel, PowerPoint, and presentation). I’ve started working on creating some learning and training schedules for each of these skills.

In addition, I’m beginning to believe in the fact that there need to be general skills that help anybody in any knowledge work – Communication and a great work process. These are the sort of work skills we gain in our first internships. This is still a thought-in-progress.

Downtime focus between Mon-Fri. Downtime. Stillness. Reflection.

I schedule nothing aside from admin tasks and daily must-do-habits. I used to inevitably crunch through my task list whenever I found time. This has radically changed the way I view a working week and I’m loving it.

Sunday as a burst day. Sunday was always effectively a working day. This just makes it into a day of “bursts.” The idea going forward would be to do this on 2 sundays every month – let’s see.

Saturday as a day of fasting. Intellectual fasting i.e. no email and work. I managed to pull this off for a while in the first 3 months last year and never managed to do it after that. I’m not ready to do it yet but is something I want to get to. No tearing hurry to get to this as yet.

What about the daily gamification system?

I still keep my daily points/gamification system. The main focus of this system has now changed to ensuring I get basic habits sorted – 20 mins of meditation, 20 mins of exercise, 30 mins book reading, and 8 hours of sleep.

Additionally, I have my morning “work flow – blog related (i.e. blog post + good morning quote) and email, and an evening flow involving studying writing and clearing email.

As far as work goes, I am now focused on deep skill work I’ve done in a day. I’m still working out a way to measure this. So, the only thing at work measured for now is that I stick to 3 hour gaps between accessing the web for google reader, email, etc.

This is a new experiment. I am really excited to see how it goes.

We are more the same than we are willing to accept

I interview Cam, a management consultant who specializes in Executive Coaching and Change Management, last Monday. I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from Cam and I’m looking forward to sharing the interview with you. When I asked him about beliefs he takes into every new “change” assignment, he had a wonderful point to share.

He said we are more the same than we are willing to accept. There are a few differences but we tend to get obsessed with them. We tend to share the same needs and drives across religions, ethnicities, and nationalities.

I have often wondered if we are different at all. In my limited experience working across cultures, I’ve seen norms differ – e.g. Europeans go on long summer vacations, the Germanic cultures are typically on time, the Aussies prefer getting done with work by 5pm, etc., – but I’ve found the people to be driven by similar needs. Everyone, regardless of their culture, wants to be loved and appreciated. And everyone wants to live a happy and fulfilling life.

And, thanks to the internet, we can now connect with people who share our beliefs. I am constantly amazed at how often I’ve been able to find friends online who share a similar attitude towards life. Some of the most active commenters on this blog are people I’ve never met and yet people I’d love to go to lunch with.

The fact that can we can connect with people like us from all over the world is a privilege. We are all not that different and there are many like us. We just need to reach out and make these friends.

We might be alone in the paths we take. But we are far from alone in spirit and belief.

It is an uplifting thought.