Friday, January 23, 2015

This week in EID - Episode 38

OK, I was wrong.  One more short week.  I didn’t recognize that we would not be publishing on MLK Day.  I personally consider it just as important a holiday as most of the others we take off.  And it is a banking holiday.  And the garbage and recycling collections skip the day.  But I didn’t get the day off, so it slipped my mind.  Great example of lack of attention trumping the presence of memory.  Wow – that would make a good article title! 

The three posts this week cover the three basic dimensions that we cover at EID.  Tuesday was on innovation.  Wednesday was on psychology, and Thursday was on design.  Of course we have a lot of flavors of each of these topics – motor coordination, attention, learning, consumer electronics, workplace ergonomics, etc etc etc.  We have a wide variety of constituencies, which is why we cover so many topics.  And I try to write the articles so that they are interesting to everyone.  Comments suggest I do a reasonable job of this.  You can let me know if I am not.  The more feedback the better.

So Tuesday was about this really cool innovation I learned about how Mercedes and Brabus have collaborated to fight the Moscow rush hour traffic.  Apparently, the typical Moscow commute time is 3-4 hours. So half of your day’s productivity is wasted.  For what they refer to as mini-garchs, it is worth a company’s investment to customize one of the these.  Full oligarchs don’t actually go to the office, they work from their dachas.  And the bottom level just deal with the traffic.  I guess there are some socio-economic messages in there, but we focused on the innovation.  They have instrumented a commuting vehicle that is better than 95% of most offices.  Definitely better than mine. 

Wednesday was, as usual, my favorite topic of self-delusion.  In this case it was the example that when we embellish our stories, we start believing them ourselves – to the point where we don’t even notice the deception.  This happens will all self-delusion because of the neurochemical processes involved in reconsolidation (for example here).  But with social media posts it is more powerful because it is just words, so the images are not dissonant.  And every time someone comments, the embellished story hits us again by reappearing in our news feeds.

So then Thursday was a rant against the poor design of many classrooms.  Higher ed, but especially K-6.  General class topics, but especially STEM.  For all students, but especially minorities and women.  And even worse, there are some really low cost interventions that we are not using nearly enough.  Read the post and see what you can do, either as a teacher or as a parent.  Grassroots solutions work too.  You don’t need a school board vote.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Business Podcasting

I just listened to a fantastic podcast that I would strongly recommend to anyone who either runs a business, is involved in social media, or wants to add a powerful new tool to the company they work for.  The show is only about 45 minutes long and it is a conversation between three incredibly smart business pros on using podcasting for business.  They come from different places and didn’t start out as podcasting experts.  So neither do you.  But you might want to start one by the time you finish listening.  They have a wide ranging discussion of podcasting and how to leverage it for your business.  The strategy works for tech and non-tech businesses, large and small. 

Michael Stelzner, whose podcast the show is on, comes from a social media marketing background and is the Founder of Social Media Examiner.  He is also one of the originals at leveraging podcasts for business.  The two guests are:

Joe Pulizzi is one of the premier experts at content marketing and runs the Content Marketing Institute (full disclosure – I am a huge fan of CMI).  He came late to the podcasting world but has clearly mastered it. CMI just launched a whole network of podcasts.  I just bought his 2013 book “Epic Content Marketing” and plan to read his new one soon.

Jay Baer runs Convince & Convert and runs the biggest search site for marketing podcasts.  He hosts the Social Pros podcast and launched a really cool series of 3-minute videos that he cross markets in some really brilliant ways on Facebook, YouTube, his blog, and other channels.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

National Year of Service

One of the topics that often comes up on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is the idea of a national year of service. This is the practice of taking a gap year after graduating from high school to do some kind of public service.  Some people want it to be mandatory and others want it to be optional.  Some want it to be domestic and some want to include international service.  Some want to include military service and some want it to be purely social action.  Each person has her own idea of what kinds of service should be included.  And of course the process, selection, costs, benefits, etc. have to be worked through. 

My Take

I originally wrote a post that reflected on each of these decisions, but I will let you look elsewhere (for example).  Instead, I would rather focus on one particular dimension – the benefits of what psychologists call perspective taking. This is what happens when you develop the ability to see a situation, a problem, a decision, or the world in general, from someone else’s point of view. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that this adds an additional perspective to your own.  By seeing a problem from two points of view, you can develop a better solution.  Makes perfect sense.

But it turns out, there is a much more powerful effect.  It raises your level of construal – which is what psychologists call “seeing the big picture.”  Experience looking at situations from multiple vantage points changes the way you look at everything, even when you only use your own perspective.  You bump up a level. 

So now let’s turn back to this Year of Service idea.  The more different the perspective that it requires students to take, the more effectively it will build their capacity for perspective taking.  And if it lasts a year, there are a lot of great service jobs that will give them a wide variety of experiences.  The one requirement that I would put on the service activity is that it has to be something as different as possible from what they have done before. 

I have seen students with better perspective taking capacity and a generally higher level of construal when approaching everything they do.  They are better students in many ways.  They deliver better course assignments, but that is just a short term benefit. They also have a greater capacity to gain from other things they do in school.  From their sports, their clubs, their part time jobs, and on and on. 

So as a professor, I would selfishly want a mandatory Year of Service and have some rules that push students into very different experiences. Plus, I think the social benefits are pretty valuable as well. 

Your Turn

So I have two questions for you today.  First, given this idea of perspective taking and construal level, do you think that this is a wonderful thing for students to do in between high school and whatever their next life chapter is (work, college, whatever)? 

And if so, what other rules would you add? 

Friday, January 16, 2015

This Week in EID - Episode 37

Some very different topics this week at Ergonomics in Design.   

On Monday, we talked about rituals.  That was written well before the Charlie Hebdo attack and did not intend to bring in the topic of religion.  But the coincidental timing gave a lot of readers some thoughts, shared with us on Linked In.  What we meant when writing the article was the kind of rituals that we create for ourselves.  Families create rituals for how they open their Christmas presents that are not based on any religious teachings or shared by their coreligionists. This goes beyond our daily routines like showering, dressing and eating breakfast.  They have an emotional component that drives us to follow them much more rigorously.  If we can get users to create rituals around their use of our designs, the engagement and switching costs are huge.

Tuesday was something much more biochemical.  Apparently, when addicts are going through withdrawal, their neurotransmitters get messed up in a way that prevents them from experiencing any kind of pleasure.  Unfortunately, this increases their chance of relapsing.  If we can get users addicted to our designs (not quite so biochemically, but to some extent), we may be able to achieve a similar type of effect.

The article that speculated about what kinds of issues might arise if your car could interject itself if it predicted you were about to make a mistake got comments on seven different Linked In groups.  I think that might be a record.  Issues spanned automation reliability, ethics, technology management, UI design, and more.  Pretty cool.

And then Thursday’s piece about crowdsourcing brought me back to a course I used to teach at FIU.  There are some very innovative ways to manage the crowdsourcing process.  The example in this post is driven by one big company, which is one of my least favorites but is one of the easiest to create, manage, and profit from.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Freedom of Expression

What we can learn about Freedom of Expression

There have been some great debates in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack.  Unfortunately, there have also been some seriously banal ones, but let’s but those aside for today and keep the discussion positive.

I don’t think any of these debates have changed any of my personal views on the subject, but they pointed out some alternatives.  One good one came this morning on BBC about the expiration of the copyright on Hitler’s Mein Kampf (link to  The debate is whether the book should be completely banned in Germany once it becomes open access.  The fear is that it would be too widely distributed and could lead to all kinds of mischief in the wrong hands.  Europe has many laws against hate speech that are much more severe than anything we have in the US and Holocaust denial is a serious crime. But this would constitute book banning. 

The first thing we should do is list the kinds of expressions that some people/cultures find fault with.  Only then can we decide if and how they should be regulated.  In the U.S., we only restrict one kind of speech – when it has a direct and immediate threat to someone’s safety.  You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater because people can be trampled in the panic.  You can’t directly threaten a person or call for a specific person or group to be harmed in any specific ways.  But there are limits on this restriction. If you are generic enough in your personal threat or public call to action, you can get away with it.  “I think all bad people should be beat up immediately” or “Hey Joe Smith, sometime in the future I am going to find and get you” are both OK.  The threshold is whether a reasonable person would have a significant fear for his or her safety.  The exceptions that I can think of are bomb threats, which are illegal even if they are false because of the huge expense and inconvenience.  There are also some new initiatives about bullying, particularly on social media. 

Then there is hate speech.  This is defined differently in each jurisdiction but the general idea is that you express hatred or negative stereotypes about an entire class of people: race, religion, culture, gender, sexual identity.  No individual is personally threatened, but spreading these ideas could lead to discrimination or injury to a member of this class in the future.  Holocaust denial is a special case of hate speech.  The fear is that systemic anti-Semitism has been around in Europe for millennia and there were pograms against Jews every couple of decades since the times of the Romans.  The only way to fight something this ingrained in the psyche is to wipe it from public discourse.  The problem with all hate speech laws is that they just send it underground.  I think it is easier to fight it when it is out in the open.  So personally, I am very strongly against hate speech laws. I want the haters out in the public square where I can protest against them and educate their listeners.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks were based on expression against a respected religious figure.  Religion is a sensitive domain because it is sacred.  When someone’s self-identity and social-identity are both tightly integrated with a concept of any kind, it often leads to violent response.  That is why these kinds of regulations frequently appear.  It is similar to flag burning in that way.  In this case, I make a differentiation between what you should do versus what is regulated.  I think it is in very poor taste to ridicule a respected religious figure, especially if you are doing it intentionally to humiliate someone or their religion.  It is not Mohammed who is causing the fundamentalist Islamist terrorist attacks.  But that does not mean that it should be banned.  Again, get the haters out into the public square where we can protest them and educate their followers. 

Any response that resorts to violence is certainly beyond the pale.  This applies to all of the above.  Even when something has been regulated by a jurisdiction, vigilante justice is not the way to go.  That kind of expression I have no problem banning and prosecuting to the full extent of the law.