Sunday, November 9, 2014

Odysseus Started The Industrial Revolution

Factory work may have been a commitment device to get everyone to work hard. Odysseus tying himself to the mast was also a commitment device. Dean Karlan, Yale economics professor explains how commitment devices work:
"This idea of forcing one’s own future behavior dates back in our culture at least to Odysseus, who had his crew tie him to the ship’s mast so he wouldn’t be tempted by the sirens; and Cortes, who burned his ships to show his army that there would be no going back.

Economists call this method of pushing your future self into some behavior a “commitment device.” [Related: a Freakonomics podcast on the topic is called "Save Me From Myself."] From my WSJ op-ed:
Most of us don’t have crews and soldiers at our disposal, but many people still find ways to influence their future selves. Some compulsive shoppers will freeze their credit cards in blocks of ice to make sure they can’t get at them too readily when tempted. Some who are particularly prone to the siren song of their pillows in the morning place their alarm clock far from their bed, on the other side of the room, forcing their future self out of bed to shut it off. When MIT graduate student Guri Nanda developed an alarm clock, Clocky, that rolls off a night stand and hides when it goes off, the market beat a path to her door."
 See What Can We Learn From Congress and African Farmers About Losing Weight?

Something like this came up recently in the New York Times, in reference to factory work and the Industrial Revolution. See Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind. From the NY Times, 9-27. By SENDHIL MULLAINATHAN, a professor of economics at Harvard. Excerpts:
"Greg Clark, a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, has gone so far as to argue that the Industrial Revolution was in part a self-control revolution. Many economists, beginning with Adam Smith, have argued that factories — an important innovation of the Industrial Revolution — blossomed because they allowed workers to specialize and be more productive.

Professor Clark argues that work rules truly differentiated the factory. People working at home could start and finish when they wanted, a very appealing sort of flexibility, but it had a major drawback, he said. People ended up doing less work that way.

Factories imposed discipline. They enforced strict work hours. There were rules for when you could go home and for when you had to show up at the beginning of your shift. If you arrived late you could be locked out for the day. For workers being paid piece rates, this certainly got them up and at work on time. You can even see something similar with the assembly line. Those operations dictate a certain pace of work. Like a running partner, an assembly line enforces a certain speed.

As Professor Clark provocatively puts it: “Workers effectively hired capitalists to make them work harder. They lacked the self-control to achieve higher earnings on their own.”

The data entry workers in our study, centuries later, might have agreed with that statement. In fact, 73 percent of them did agree to this statement: “It would be good if there were rules against being absent because it would help me come to work more often.”"
The workers, like Odyssues, tied themselves to the mast to resist the temptation of slacking. This made it possible for factories to generate the large output of the Industrial Revolution.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Response To Esther Cepeda Who Said You Should Work Hard Instead Of Doing What You Love

It was printed today in the San Antonio Express-News. Here is the link: False choice to separate work and passion. In the print edition it was titled "Passion not antithesis of hard toil." Here is the link to her article: Esther Cepeda: The rewards of hard work.

"I think Esther J. Cepeda presents a false dichotomy between “following your bliss” and “grinding it out” (“Hard work trumps doing what you love,” Other Views, Jan. 24). She says we need more people who “grind it out” and work hard starting businesses instead of people doing what they love and that “love and passion” are no “substitutes for hard work.”

What if hard work and passion complement each other? This would erase the conflict she sees.

Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, says “when it comes to choosing a life path, you should do what you love — because if you don't love it, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good.” And he advocates hard work — lots of it.

You will “grind it out” if you are doing something you love. Some neuroscience research says that when we do what we love, we form new connections in our brain that increase our skill. At the same time, the release of dopamine that gives us pleasure also helps form these connections.

Cepeda did not mention mythologist Joseph Campbell, who championed “following your bliss” in the 1980s. He wrote the book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” (one of the inspirations for “Star Wars”).

It is not commonly known that Campbell said entrepreneurs, the grinders Cepeda lauds, were the real heroes in our society. Business can be a fulfilling adventure, like art or science.

Maybe our society does not have enough grinders starting new companies because of our negative attitudes toward business. Look at popular portrayals of capitalists such as J.R. Ewing and Gordon Gekko. This may be why young people are not likely to see business as a noble and worthy quest. Our national narrative needs to change.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Edmund Phelps has pointed out that we have lost our innovative spark, and certainly the images of capitalists in movies and TV do not help.

Calling entrepreneurs heroes does not mean we should exempt them from ethical behavior. It is not a license to defraud or harm the public. We cannot, however, completely avoid some negative effects of business, such as pollution. But that is something we can tax.

Educator Candace Allen has pointed out that if we do not honor entrepreneurial accomplishment, we will not get enough entrepreneurs.

As President Barack Obama has said, “No government program alone can take the place of a great entrepreneur.” Our national dialogue needs to include the vital role they play. Even those who start, as Cepeda says, boring businesses such as dry cleaner and fast-food franchises.

Those entrepreneurs may be the heroes on the front line of our economy. And who does not love being a hero? That might get people to do the hard work Cepeda wants done."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Economist Paul Zak On "How Stories Change the Brain"

Click here to read it. When Zak refers to "recent analysis" that identifies the "hero's journey" he refers to a book titled Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing (and not getting eaten) by Pen Densham. That book has a few references to Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, one of the inspirations for Star Wars). Zak mentions "there is a universal story structure." This sounds like Campbell, too.

I also like how Zak ties the way the brain is affected by stories to evolution. He mentions how some stories are better at eliciting a desire to donate money to charities. Economics also comes in with "attention is a scarce resource." If you are telling a story, you better make it emotional or else people will not want to focus on it because that is costly. As economist Robert Frank has said, emotions are costly to fake so they make a more believable kind of information.

"A recent analysis identifies this “hero’s journey” story as the foundation for more than half of the movies that come out of Hollywood, and countless books of fiction and nonfiction. And, if you take a look, this structure is in the majority of the most-watched TED talks.

Why are we so attracted to stories? My lab has spent the last several years seeking to understand why stories can move us to tears, change our attitudes, opinions and behaviors, and even inspire us—and how stories change our brains, often for the better. Here’s what we’ve learned."

"The first part of the answer is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts."

"We discovered that there are two key aspects to an effective story. First, it must capture and hold our attention. The second thing an effective story does is “transport” us into the characters’ world.

Any Hollywood writer will tell you that attention is a scarce resource. Movies, TV shows, and books always include “hooks” that make you turn the page, stay on the channel through the commercial, or keep you in a theater seat.

Scientists liken attention to a spotlight. We are only able to shine it on a narrow area. If that area seems less interesting than some other area, our attention wanders.

In fact, using one’s attentional spotlight is metabolically costly so we use it sparingly. This is why you can drive on the freeway and talk on the phone or listen to music at the same time. Your attentional spotlight is dim so you can absorb multiple informational streams. You can do this until the car in front of you jams on its brakes and your attentional spotlight illuminates fully to help you avoid an accident.

From a story-telling perspective, the way to keep an audience’s attention is to continually increase the tension in the story"

"In the brain, maintaining attention produces signs of arousal: the heart and breathing speed up, stress hormones are released, and our focus is high.

Once a story has sustained our attention long enough, we may begin to emotionally resonate with story’s characters. Narratologists call this “transportation,” and you experience this when your palms sweat as James Bond trades blows with a villain on top of a speeding train.

Transportation is an amazing neural feat. We watch a flickering image that we know is fictional, but evolutionarily old parts of our brain simulate the emotions we intuit James Bond must be feeling. And we begin to feel those emotions, too.

Stories bring brains together

Emotional simulation is the foundation for empathy and is particularly powerful for social creatures like humans because it allows us to rapidly forecast if people around us are angry or kind, dangerous or safe, friend or foe.

Such a neural mechanism keeps us safe but also allows us to rapidly form relationships with a wider set of members of our species than any other animal does. The ability to quickly form relationships allows humans to engage in the kinds of large-scale cooperation that builds massive bridges and sends humans into space. By knowing someone’s story—where they came from, what they do, and who you might know in common—relationships with strangers are formed. 

We have identified oxytocin as the neurochemical responsible for empathy and narrative transportation. My lab pioneered the behavioral study of oxytocin and has proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. I have dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” and others call it the love hormone. What we know is that oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help."

"But it turns out that not all stories keep our attention and not all stories transport us into the characters’ worlds."

"This evidence supports the view of some narrative theorists that there is a universal story structure. These scholars claim every engaging story has this structure, called the dramatic arc. It starts with something new and surprising, and increases tension with difficulties that the characters must overcome, often because of some failure or crisis in their past, and then leads to a climax where the characters must look deep inside themselves to overcome the looming crisis, and once this transformation occurs, the story resolves itself."

"The form in which a narrative is told also seems to matter. The narrative theorist Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in the 1960s that “the medium is the message,” and we’ve found this is true neurologically."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Growing Your Business Through Storytelling

Robert Lerose of Bank of America interviewed Jonathan Gottschall. Click here to go to it. The only thing I would add is that if stories convey emotions, as Gottschall says, they are economic because emotions are costly to fake. That is one of the big things I try to get across with this blog. See the link on the right for more info  What This Blog Is About.

Here is the interview:
"Growing Your Business Through Storytelling: Q&A with author Jonathan Gottschall
 Posted by Touchpoint in General Business on Dec 6, 2013 8:08:23 AM  

Everybody loves a good story. Stories can fill us with joy, bring us to tears, or stimulate any emotion in between. They have a magical ability to grab and hold our attention in a way that almost no other form of communication can, making them ideal for marketers who want to reach distracted consumers and grow their sales. Recently, business writer Robert Lerose spoke with Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, about the irresistible pull of storytelling and the role it plays in building brands.

RL: There seems to be a movement in business to have a good brand story to tell—something that resonates on an emotional level with consumers. What are some ways that a business can harness the power of stories to grow their brand or sell their products?

JG: Story is considered a potent tool in business communication because it's special in the way that it draws human attention. If you just tell me your business makes really great paper clips, I don't care. It's just data. But if you wrap your product up in a compelling narrative—an emotionally engrossing story—then you have me. A story not only gives me information that you guys make good paper clips, but it helps me feel an emotional connection with you and what you're doing that's really quite powerful. Coca-Cola is a perfect example. What sets them apart isn't the beverage so much, but the kinds of stories they tell about their products and the kind of bond they've been able to forge with consumers over roughly a century. 

RL: You've said that television commercials are half-minute short stories. What did you mean by that?

JG: A commercial rarely just says that a laundry detergent works well; it shows that it does through a story about an overworked mom, rascally kids, and a laundry room triumph. Jewelry stores get men to buy sparkly little rocks by screening stories in which besotted suitors pinpoint the exact price of a woman's love: two months' salary. Some ad campaigns are designed around recurring characters in multipart stories. Story touches nearly every aspect of our lives.

RL: Stories rely heavily on conflict to involve the reader. Even case studies in business follow a typical problem/solution structure. Why?

JG: Stories are almost always about people with problems. The people want something badly, but big obstacles [stand in the way]. It is a basic storytelling technique to establish and forge this really strong, personal connection between consumers and the brand. Stories tend to fixate on trouble. Without a knotty problem, you don't have a story.

RL: Stories can help brands distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace. Do you have an example of a brand story that rises above the fray?

JG: This Chipotle ad is a very good example. You can tell people all day about the power of story. You can describe the psychological studies that prove it. But if you have them watch this story, they can see for themselves—feel for themselves—why story is such an incredibly powerful tool for riveting attention, rousing emotion, changing behavior, and driving home a business's message.

RL: You say that story binds society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of common culture. How can a business leverage this?

JG: Tell stories that tap into a common morality. Story is the grease and glue of society: by encouraging us to behave well, story reduces social friction while uniting people around common values.

RL: How can small business owners become better storytellers?

JG: I'd tell them to steer clear of business books and look up creative writing textbooks instead, like The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. There are a few basic principles to learn. One is to have a problem, to have trouble in your story. If there's no problem, people just aren't interested. The second thing I would stress is that by nature, story is a vehicle for a message. So it's not weird or artificial to graft your business message onto your business story. Stories are so much better at carrying a message and convincing people of things than just a straight informational presentation. There's a lot of research that shows how much better people remember things in story form—how much more convinced they are when people are given information in a story—rather than from a list of bullet points.

RL: Final thoughts?

JG: I was in Warsaw at this little place called the Radio Café that's popular with Western travelers. On the back page of the menu, there's a whole story in English about the Radio Café and the building it's in and the role it played transmitting radio signals during the Polish resistance of World War II. And suddenly—instead of just having Polish dumplings at this restaurant, I felt deeply, emotionally connected to this place. I had read up on Warsaw and I had all these associations in my mind. Their little story connected me to that big story and made me feel a little more connected to that place in a way that would have brought me back, in a way that would have me recommend it to my friends. Just by intuition, they knew it was important to tell their story."