Archive for October, 2011

You Are Free To Stop

October 31st, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

It’s an open secret that an open secret is an oxymoron.  ‘tis nobler is unsure whether this old news came from military intelligence or the Italian government for there has been a deafening silence.  There are contradictory views on the involvement of paradoxes and contradictions in oxymorons; actually paradoxes lead to contradictions so it might be a case that everything ‘tis nobler writes is false.  ‘tis nobler wonders whether you are able to exclude that last assertion from your conclusion; if you cannot do this, it’s rather paradoxical.

Perhaps it’s like concluding that you are not free to do but (and say this in your best Yoda voice) you are free to do not.  It would be more realistic if you said ‘free you are to do not’.

Are you free to do not?  So it would seem from the evidence (although it is restricted to very simple experimental tasks).  This is a very big topic – one that will generate much discussion between neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers for it is fraught with methodological  and conceptual issues – but let’s pick out the very essence of it as it reinforces the fundamental importance of self management.

One fundamental advantage of experiential learning is the shift from conscious or intentional processing of information to subconscious and unintentional (but NOT unintended) operation.  There are many, many examples that you could draw on from personal experience in which you are doing things in a sensible, co-ordinated, effective and efficient manner without being fully aware of them – the most ubiquitous example could be driving a car, much of which takes place ‘in the background’ and occasionally from the backseat!  Are you exercising free will in these instances?

This may or may not be different from the chain of events that underpin specific and isolated choices, for what affects these discrete choices may still be as complex as any skilled behaviour.  Being unaware of ‘what and why’ prior to the conscious act may have little to do with free will and more to do with learned, validated and elegant patterns.  Who knows?

But, regardless of the precise mechanism(s), it appears possible to stop this automatic process before the (non-conscious) action is implemented.  While the status of a ‘go motion’ remains debatable, a ‘stop motion’ exists.  Stop motion is a paradox and yet it is exceedingly clever.  It relies on compressing a large number of very subtle changes to produce a fluid pattern, which is not that far away from the goals of experiential learning:

Even on autopilot and not consciously aware of what you are doing, you retain the capacity to stop and change.  You should be aware that you have choices, even when you are unaware of their existence.

You have the power to choose to stop.  You have the power to choose to change.  What will you choose to do?

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

October 30th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative. Enjoy!

Why do leaves change colour?

The visually stunning (and never dark) Midnight Sun – Iceland.

The history of pretty much everything – from as early as we can say anything sensible (and that is very, very early) to as late as we can anything sensible (and that is a very, very long time from now).

Matthew Brown’s ‘Dreaming in Italy’, and ‘This Isreal’  (psst, this title isn’t an error – it is real).

60 second adventures in thought – 6 minutes well spent!

How the potato changed the world.

Not 3 Men in a Boat – it’s 6 guys in a capsule simulating a mission to Mars.

Forward Is Not Straightforward

October 28th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

We realise from the last post that around is not forward.  Around is around, and around is anything but forward.  Around can be a backward step in many ways, and not one of those ways is forward.

Trying to unpack ‘forward is not straightforward’ can also lead us in many directions.  One of the main reasons why forward is not straightforward is that going around is comfortable and non-threatening.  How do you break away from going around (in circles) in order to move forward?

It’s interesting that the last thing to do is often the first thing done – reduce the challenge and complexity involved in breaking away to simple catchcries and empty slogans.  If ‘just do it’ enabled people to ‘just do it’, then ‘it’ would always get done.  It’s just not that easy.  There is some general guidance from research studies that might make moving forward more straightforward (and remember, be positive, think comparative).

To move forward rather than around, realise firstly that everything is more important than it may appear, for the opportunity to move forward is ever present.  This does not mean that everything is crucial or critical; neither does it mean that you must never miss an opportunity for you will miss many, many opportunities.  But if you move forward more often because you understand that things are more important than they seem, it’s a step in the right direction!  And these steps form a pattern, and we all know how important patterns are to learning and behavioural change.

At the tipping point for moving forward, implement rather than create.  Thinking ‘on your feet’ might be all you need to decide that it’s safer to go around rather than forward.  Make symbolic changes as a means to an end; many think that symbolic change is an end in its own right for it is, after all, a change.  Real change, demonstrated by moving forward, can be made more likely by making small changes that symbolise a commitment to change.

Don’t focus on the process and ignore the occasional stumble; remember and reinforce the reason for moving forward.  You can avoid the process and the stumbles by going around but you also avoid the reason for breaking away from just going around at the same time.  Regardless of how you do it, the principle underpinning all of these strategies is a simple one:

Don’t hold back, just push things forward!

Forward does not necessarily mean straight so only you can decide whether ‘crooked’ is forward or around.  Straight or ‘crooked’, though, forward is never straightforward.  Can you get your head around that?

Around Is Not Forward

October 26th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

Movement does not necessarily signify progress; neither does change necessarily signify improvement.  Deckchairs on the Titanic or chickens parted from their heads represent evidence that around is not forward.  Around poses problems for individuals but it is an almost irresistible temptation for groups.

Around does have particular appeal for it alludes to effort – satisfying a pre-requisite that people must be seen to be doing something – while progress eludes those making such ‘effort’.  The latter satisfies a second pre-requisite for many such activities – retention of the status quo.

Not only is around not forward, around prevents forward.  In a standard twist, forward must not only be prevented, it must NOT be seen to be prevented.  Prevention is better when unclear!

There is significant evidence indicating how this happens within groups but no clear explanations for why this happens.  Possible explanations will be left for another time – perhaps things will move forward if ‘tis nobler hangs around – so let’s just set out the basic problem.

And the basic problem is ‘around’.  Groups are not the sum of the individuals that comprise them; rather, groups are often the parts of each individual that are shared with all other group members.  Instead of bringing all of themselves to the group, each person brings only those things shared with others.  In this sense, while groups comprise more people, group performance can reflect the limited performance of less than one individual.

If you can’t or don’t use all of your abilities to help the group move forward, look what happens:

Expanding numbers can produce shrinking performance, for all reduce to the shared rather than share the unique.  It’s the opposite of synergy – the whole is less rather than greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s a lot of ‘going around’ going around.  Go forward, not around.

One Or More Changes

October 24th, 2011 | Specific | 0 Comments

‘One or more’ changes many things.  Or one or more changes change many things.

When things change from one to more than one, things can get messy.  Then again, when things change from one to more than one, things can get highly focused, more efficient and very effective.  Was it the opening line to that less-known novel, The Tale of Two Entities’, that stated ‘’twas the best of outcomes, ‘twas the worst of outcomes’?

When you strive for the greatest good – Summum Bonum – ‘one or more’ changes many things, not least of which is perspective.  What do you do differently if you are learning or changing by yourself compared to doing the same things with others?  Is your answer ‘many things’?

Game theory demonstrates that individuals need to shift their focus away personal gain if their outcomes move from independent of others to interdependent.  They need to shift their focus from competition to cooperation for, if everyone tries to win, ultimately everyone loses.  Cooperation makes even more sense when you take into account how much worse people perceive losses relative to gains.

If you are not ‘flying solo’, you optimise your returns when you cooperate for win/win outcomes become possible.  Compete with yourself and cooperate with others.  ‘Flying solo’ allows you to be selfish – just concerned with yourself – while ‘flying in formation’ requires you to become less selfish.

Some recent research has suggested that this shift can go even further in certain conditions.  Rather than just being less selfish, individuals can behave selflessly to ensure group aims are achieved.  They sacrifice more of their personal entitlement when their group is competing with others – a classic example of putting the team before themselves – and trying to achieve the very best results.  With all (competing) groups trying to achieve the very best result possible, everybody wins and wins more than they otherwise would!

Within your groups, it can be a case of ‘war’ or it can be a case of ‘no more trouble’:

How you do decide between selfish, less selfish and selfless?  Depending on the circumstances, each of these can produce positive returns.  Applied inappropriately, however, everybody might lose.

You cannot win all the time.  You shouldn’t try to win all the time.  And sometimes you shouldn’t try to win at all.  Being your best is always available (and need not involve ‘winning’) while, for most of us, trying to be the best is the best way to fail.

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

October 23rd, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative. Enjoy! 

Water, water, everywhere. Water, water, from out there?

Rather than doing partial repairs, can we revive a dying heart?

Marco Tempest describes himself as a cyberillusionist – the magic of truth and lies on iPods!

Is symmetry a ‘key to Nature’s secrets’?

Terrible sound and bland photography, until you realise it’s Mars! Those images are difficult to reconcile with evidence of a warmer and wetter Martian past.

What is the population limit for Earth?

Power FROM (!!) the people – biofuel cells.

Appearing Positive

October 21st, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Apparently, this week has been about appearances.  At least, that is how it has seemed.  Making an appearance, as appearance has done this week, suggests that there are periods of absence.  Appearing then departing, appearing (in the sense of seeming) then becoming clear(er) or absent and then appearing, the change in ‘state’ may be the most noticeable feature.  Of course, the regular appearance of change blindness suggests that we can be blind to a change in appearance.

Who would have thought that appearance was such an awkward concept?

Still, In the face of continuing uncertainty and constant change, we are often told to stay positive, suggesting we were positive in the first place.  But ‘appearing positive’ – the title of today’s post – is not about affect; rather, it’s about grammar.  And it’s about the relevance of the relative and the abandonment of the absolute.

The positive is the base form of an adjective – easy, safe, hard or dangerous – and it is in this form that many people view experiential learning and behavioural change.  They view it in absolute terms.  Things might appear positive – they might appear safe or easy – but the ways things appear can be deceiving.

But things are rarely absolute and so we need to think of ‘appearing positive’ in degrees – safer, easier or less dangerous.  This is the comparative form, the form that is more appropriate for learners and changers.  You are never safe but you can always be safer, things are never easy but effort can make them easier.  If you think ‘positive’, you see things in black and white.  To appreciate the many subtleties that influence learning and behaviour, you need to see both others and situations (and yourself) in true colours:

As soon as you slip back to accepting that things appear positive, and therefore they are absolute, the potential for error increases.  We can be lulled into this type of thinking for the real world often conspires against us:

  • We operate in forgiving environments and so we are often unaware of being forgiven.
  • We operate in familiar environments and so we are often unaware of the subtle variations.
  • We operate in self-paced environments and so we are often unaware of our efforts to ‘keep up with the Joneses’.

Forgiving, familiar and self-paced are ‘positive’.  But we need more, or less, to guide our journey – more forgiving, less familiar, and more self-paced.  Is more or less more or less appropriate than the positive? Can you be absolutely positive or is it better to be surely relative?

Things might appear positive but they aren’t.  Be positive, think comparative.

Appearing Random

October 19th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

This is the fifth (of six) ‘strategic’ post in a row, which hardly seems random (for the sole reason that it isn’t).  Yet the appearance of randomness influences learning and behavioural change in a host of ways.  Let’s start with a few questions.

Would your friends describe you as fantastic or bombastic?  Would your friends describe you as gymnastic or inelastic?  Would your friends describe you as enthusiastic or plastic?  Would your friends describe you as ecclesiastic or scholastic?

Would your friends think these rating are drastic or exaggerated?  Exaggerated?  EXAGGERATED??  That doesn’t fit the pattern!

The use of ‘exaggerated’ isn’t sarcastic – it’s stochastic.  Actually, it’s not stochastic, but ‘tis nobler is trying to make a point.  And the point has to do with how you go about explaining things, for your explanations can affect everything you do.

Stochastic means random, a messy word that might be best defined as unpredictable, although this might just mean things are happening according to a pattern of which we are unaware.  Just because things look random doesn’t mean that they are – even many sets of ‘random’ numbers are, in technical terms, pseudo-random rather than truly random.

The difference between things appearing mostly random or mostly predictable is you!

Everybody knows the saying, ‘S#@t happens’.  Is this just ‘bad luck’?  Was it unavoidable?  Was it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Was there anything you could have done differently?  In order, ‘tis nobler suggests that the answers to these questions are improbable, probably not, possibly and absolutely.

How would you answer these same questions?

Stochastic systems aren’t entirely chaotic; they have both predictable and unpredictable elements – just knowing how they start out doesn’t guarantee that you’ll know how they finish (if it did, the system would be deterministic, not stochastic).  Traffic is stochastic – you can predict reliably, but not perfectly, what most other drivers will do because most behave in accordance with rules and social norms most of the time.  You can predict that almost every driver will stay on their side of the road almost all of the time but you can’t be completely sure that, as you round the next corner, you won’t be faced with another car coming straight towards you on your side of the road.  Welcome to the stochastic world!

Unpredictability is always from a particular viewpoint – an event may appear unpredictable to you but not to others.  An event may appear unpredictable to you simply because you didn’t notice the things that led up to it.  It may have been surprising (to you) but it wasn’t unpredictable.  If you don’t see something, does this make it inherently unpredictable?

Being ‘unpredictable’ doesn’t mean being unavoidable; the key dimension is time.  You can ‘predict’ something just as it is about to happen but that’s not much of a prediction.  The challenge is to operate ahead of time, to anticipate so that you have the time to work out what to do and then do it.  Anticipation is a hallmark of experience.

Until now, we’ve talked about stochastic things as things you have to anticipate, avoid or cope with.  But there’s another side that is exciting:

“What’s the point of living it without a tiny little bit of ….” 

Don’t be determined by others or by events that you think are beyond your control.  Be determined to find your own way, even when the process appears stochastic. Appearing random can be transformed into being in control through that essential element – effort.

It will remain a partially stochastic behavioural world.  Stochasticity is part of the challenge but it’s also part of the fun.


Appearing Frozen

October 17th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Learning and change can be great fun, producing memorable experiences that just seem to flow.  But these don’t last forever.

Learning and change can be real ordeals, producing difficult periods that you just can’t seem to shake.  But these don’t last forever.

Between the fun times and the ordeals, learning and change can just be!  They remain a part of your day to day life, even though they may be swamped by apparently more pressing matters.

How should you treat the highs?  How should you cope with the lows?  And how should you persevere when you are in the much, much larger ‘space’ between them?  There is much guidance on overcoming procrastination and much assistance on perseverance – much of which you can find by browsing these archives or exploring elsewhere.  None of this information has real meaning unless you derive it personally.  Without this investment of effort, just empty words remain.

Learning isn’t consistent, progress isn’t linear, change isn’t guaranteed and perseverance isn’t unchanging.  While there will be times when you feel like you’re making great progress, it’s probably more likely that you’ll be feeling as though there’s nothing left to learn (which is wrong because you’ll continue to improve for many years).  It’s a rollercoaster ride – sometimes you roll along, sometimes you coast and sometimes you struggle to cope because it’s a rollercoaster.  All the time, however, you are riding.

Even when you don’t think you are in ‘the game’, you ARE in ‘the game’.

Still, there will be many times when you’re going to feel as though you are frozen, something which (you and) others may not understand.  But, when you unfreeze, just look at the response!

At different times, actions, learning, motivation and progress can appear frozen.  Learning and change should not be icy.  Instead, learning and change should always aim to be ‘I See’. Think of effort as the great defroster! Think of what will get you moving again!

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

October 16th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative. Enjoy! 

Treasures of the Bodleian – Wow!

Can we ever agree on reasonable methods for assessing our reasons?

Everything you could ever wish to know about Big Ben.

And everything you could ever wish to know about dark energy (until we find out more).

And now 20 things you didn’t know about fire!

Looking for ‘life’ before the ‘living’ – the search for the last universal common ancestor.

Bob is very clever – wait for the credits to finish!

Zero Addition

October 14th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

That’s right – zero addition.  If ‘tis nobler stopped writing right now, what would your reaction be?  If there’s nothing to add, that might be a minor concern.  What if ‘tis nobler put things in reverse – add to nothing instead of nothing to add?

‘Add to nothing’ can have much more serious implications for learning and change.  For when things add to nothing, it’s a zero-sum game.

A zero-sum game is one in which the gains and losses cancel each other out – for you to win a little bit, somebody else has to lose a little bit (check out the Prisoner’s Dilemma).  When everything is added up, they sum to nothing, a sum that is something even though it is nothing.  By definition, these are conflict games.

In your experiential learning and behavioural change journeys, it might be helpful to think of yourself as being in a competition and not a contest.  You are a competitor and not a contestant who, by definition, contests things.  If this distinction is too fine, it becomes clearer when you recognise that you are only competing with yourself.  There is no competition with others.

What does competing with yourself, rather than contesting issues with others, mean?  You might conclude that you’ll cross that bridge when you come to it …… and that’s a great example:

Compete with yourself, co-operate with others.  The advantages are clear, so clear in fact that reaching this conclusion is a ‘no contest’.  Be positive, operate beyond zero.

“Operate beyond zero’ has been a theme of this week; “operate beyond zero” is never a theme of the weak!

Zero Tolerance

October 12th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Zero tolerance is a well-known approach to law and order that dismisses discretion and imposes automatic punishments.  If you do something, then this will happen.  No ifs, no buts, no nonsense, no escape.  There’s an iron-clad guarantee of a specific response.  These are the rules, and the rules must be obeyed.

There is debate within criminology and the justice system about the efficacy of zero tolerance.  There should be no debate within experiential learning and behavioural change circles about the intrusive influence of (arbitrary) rules.  They shouldn’t be tolerated.

And yet learning and change are often reduced to simple rules, but that’s another story for another time.

The previous post pointed powerfully to the pursuit of alliterative prose.  No, it didn’t but the previous sentence did have a point (and it had to do with tolerance!). The previous post talked about the relative ease of separating the possible from the ‘impossible’, which just left the ongoing challenge of sorting out the probable from the less probable.  Zero separation is straightforward; beyond zero lies everything with which you must cope.  And that, as every learner and changer knows, is not easy!

Can you identify things for which you do have zero tolerance?  For these things, is it zero tolerance in principle or do you actually practise zero tolerance?  As you know, individuals, corporations and governments do (sometimes or often) condone things for which they have expressed a zero tolerance attitude.

Beyond these things, that is beyond ‘zero’, what are your tolerances?  More importantly, how variable are these tolerances and how do they affect the way you behave?  These sorts of questions reinforce the principle that what you do tells me more about the situation than it does about who you are .

This father finds himself in a peculiar situation, for Buck is different – can you/should you  draw any conclusions that generalise beyond the situation?

Was Hamlet talking about zero tolerance when he stated “…it is a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance …”?  The real challenge, though, can again be found beyond zero.  What are your tolerances and how flexible are they?

Possible, probable and tolerable all exist beyond zero; there’s nothing more to say but everything for you to do.

Zero Separation

October 10th, 2011 | Strategic | 0 Comments

Last week, there was nothing and this week it is all about nothing.  Nothing changes, and therein can be found a key dimension of experiential learning and behavioural change.  It’s not that nothing changes for nothing does change – if you see what ‘tis nobler means.

Neither is it that nothing changes into something, for nothing has been something all along.  If some think that nothing is nothing, ‘tis nobler wonders whether this is why some also hold the view that nothing changes.  And they hold this view even when nothing changes! T here is much ado about nothing; not for nothing is nothing this week’s theme.

Zero separation suggests absolute proximity or the closest of close contact.  You might hear people say that you can’t tell two things apart or that they can’t split them.  Zero separation indicates equivalence and difficulty.  But, for experiential learners and behavioural changers, zero separation is often the first and always the easiest thing to do.

Unfortunately, being first and easiest can create problems, and this is the downside of zero separation.

It is easy to identify things that reside completely beyond your learning and change challenges – those things that have zero probability of occurring.  Separating these things from things that have a chance of occurring is straightforward for you only need to concentrate on the most extreme of events – your diet being threatened by winning a lifetime supply of donuts or crashing your car after swerving to avoid space junk that had just fallen from the sky.  The simplicity of removing the impossible may however spill over into a biased view of the possible – a sort of ‘simple is as simple isn’t’!

Separating the possible from the ‘impossible’ adds little value to your learning/change journey and neither does separating the possible from the ‘certain’.  All of the value can be found in how well you distinguish the probable from the less probable, realising at the same time that these probabilities change continually.

Once you leave zero behind, all you have to do is zero in – as much as possible – on the possible for it is in the way you cope with the richness of experience between zero and not zero that will define you.  The value of effort and experience is clearly demonstrated in the knowledge that beyond zero is everything:

It’s certainly possible to manage the probable but everything depends on you.

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

October 9th, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative. Enjoy!

20 years of Microsoft Research – the breadth, depth and quality of their work is staggering!

Their findings show that memory is divided into discrete individual packets, analogous to the way that light is divvied up into individual bits called quanta. Each memory is just 125 milliseconds long — which means the brain can swap between different memories as often as eight times in one second. 

What is the best relationship between history and time?

The search for a more perfect kilogram.

Brilliant – the Feynman Series, Part 1 (Beauty).

Photographing the (very, very) small things in life.

A balloon from Earth to Space – Aerostat.

Slow Down, It’s Sunday

October 2nd, 2011 | Related | 0 Comments

Every Sunday, ’tis nobler presents seven things that you may find inspiring, intriguing and informative. Enjoy!

Is ‘retromania’ killing pop culture?

From a time of almost nothing to a time of almost anything – the reinvention of the night.

Just an awesome dance routine.

They’re one of those things you hear about but may never see ….. until now – presenting the (Digital) Dead Sea Scrolls.

Memories of Old Awake” is a slow-paced but enthralling video about research into Icelandic Sagas.

A brief history of the brain.

Can you reverse-evolve a chicken into a chickenosaurus?

‘tis nobler is taking a short break – see you in a week’s time!