Don’t be superstitious

superstitious5.001Superstitious behavior comes from the mistaken belief that a specific activity that is followed by positive or negative reinforcement is actually the cause of that positive or negative reinforcement. It is the confusion of correlation and causality. —Marshall Goldsmith

Some people believe the silliest things.

  • Samuel Johnson always exited his house right foot first and avoided stepping on cracks in the pavement. He thought that to do otherwise would be bad luck.
  • While leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during his legendary career, Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game, thinking it would affect his playing.
  • In Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese the words for “death” and “four” are pronounced the same, so in these cultures the number 4 is seen as unlucky.
  • In Western civilization, the number 13 is deemed unlucky because there were 13 people at Christ’s last supper. Many hotels don’t label the 13th floor because some people won’t stay there; the floor numbers simply skip from 12 to 14.

I think we all can agree that this deep-seated irrationality is nonsense. Most of it just sounds nutty. Carrying a rabbit’s foot will bring good luck? There’s a relationship between astronomical phenomena and human events? Blow out all the candles on your birthday cake in one breath and you’ll get whatever you wish for?

Scientific tests of superstitions consistently debunk them. Yet superstitious thinking and behavior still pervades society.

Are you superstitious? Do you engage in superstitious behavior?

I doubt if any of my readers embrace the ridiculous examples cited above, but many of us may yield to more subtle forms of superstition that exist whenever correlation is confused with causation. Correlation is when two or more things or events tend to occur at about the same time and might be associated with each other, but aren’t necessarily connected by a cause/effect relationship. For instance, consider the following hypothetical situation.

A small town in East Texas hires a new sheriff, and a year later the robbery rate is down 50%. The city council assumes that the drop in crime is because the new sheriff is doing a terrific job so they extend his contract and give him a raise.

The problem is, while there is a valid correlation between hiring the new sheriff and the drop in crime, it is wrong to infer causation from this sequence of events. The crime rate may be down because the criminals, having already robbed most of the town’s wealth, have moved to another town that holds more opportunities. Or perhaps an aggressive home-security company has installed security systems in most of the homes and stores. So the new sheriff may or may not be the primary reason for the drop in burglaries.

The only way to prove causation is by a controlled experiment.

I doubt if any of us, in this age of science and reason, naively embrace obvious superstitions. But we may succumb to subtle forms of superstition when we inadvertently confuse correlation and causation.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – We often confuse correlation with causation. When we do, we succumb to a subtle form of superstition.
So what? – This can lead to faulty and unproductive decisions and behaviors.
Now what? – Analyze your life and eliminate superstitious behavior.

5 best books I read in 2015

reading_for_dummies_1125455We read for the pleasure and benefit of thinking another person’s thoughts. Sam Harris

One of my regrets in life is that for a decade (around age 40-50) I punched pause on my learning and grew intellectually disengaged and stale. During those years I don’t think I read even one book cover-to-cover.

So, I’m making up for lost time. Now, my goal is to read and process one book a week. (Don’t overlook the word process in the previous sentence; it’s the key to learning from reading.) I wrote a post about the benefits of reading along with some suggestions on how to maximize learning from reading – Read.

Here’s a list of the books I read and processed in 2015. At the bottom of this list are my five favorites.

The numbers in brackets represent how I rate each book on a scale from 1 (not good) to 10 (exceptional).

1. Lying – Sam Harris [8] – This short book on one subject is very powerful. Harris sees clearly and communicates well. The bottom line: Don’t ever lie. Honesty is a gift we can give to others.
2. Waking Up – Sam Harris [6] – Radical thoughts on spirituality and meditation.
3. Personal (fiction) – Lee Childs [4] – I don’t learn much by reading fiction.
4. Socrates – Paul Johnson – [6] – Socrates laid the foundation for absolute morality.
5. The Economic Naturalist – Robert Frank – [6] – Most everyday enigmas involve an economic principle.
6. Mastering the Rockefeller Habits – Verne Harnish [6] – Good business principles revisited.

7. Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown [6.5] – Good thoughts on focusing on that which is essential.
8. I Am Pilgrim (fiction) – Terry Hayes [6] – CIA-type thriller; though it is a long read (566 pages), it is a good read.
9. Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson [7.5] – Well-researched with lots of interesting stories. Just the chapter on The Slow Hunch makes the book worth reading.
10. The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown [7] – Lessons learned from the rowing team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics.

11. Me, Myself, and Us – Brian Little [7] – An engaging psychology professor writes on important issues of well-being, personality, etc. Just the chapter on Personal Projects: The Happiness of Pursuit, is worth the cost of the book.
12. The Millionaire Next Door – Stanley and Danko [6] – Through extensive research, the authors, analyze what the “typical” American millionaire family looks like. The results are surprising, and encouraging.
13. In The Kingdom of Ice – Hampton Sides [8] – In 1879 the Jeanette set sail from San Francisco. Her crew hoped to be the first humans to reach the North Pole. This story is a testimony to the incredible perseverance embedded in the human psyche.
14. How We Got to Now – Six Innovations That Made The Modern World – Steven Johnson [9] – A totally fascinating and insightful book; a must read. A blend of science and history.
15. Leadership and the Customer Revolution – Heil, Parker Tate [8] – I read this book eight years ago and it still speaks to important leadership issues, particularly relating to how to delight customers.

16. The Automatic Customer – Warrillow [5] – A good book about a narrow topic – how to make automate customers.
17. Get What’s Yours – Kotlikoff, Moeller, Solman [6] – The Social Security system is very complicated; this book helps answer major questions.
18. Ethics (for the real world) – Howard and Korver [7] – A thorough and practical book on ethics in both our personal and professional lives. A must-read book.
19. The First 90 Days – Watkins [7] – A must-read for everyone who is starting a new job or taking on a new role. “The actions you take during your first 90 days in a new role will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.” (pg, 1)
20. 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn In School – Sykes [4] – Written to teenagers but I can’t imagine a kid reading this book. Sykes is very sarcastic and belittling in his approach. All I got was a few good quotes.

21. The Road to Character – Brooks [9] – A great treatise on character illustrated by a brief biography of major characters (Eisenhower, Augustine, Dorothy Day, and others).
22. Stand Out – Dorie Clark [6] – Subtitled, How to find your breakthrough idea and build a following around it. I got a few new thoughts from this book.
23. Young Men & Fire – MaClean (7) – This book proves that there are no boring stories, just boring storytellers. MaClean takes a semi-interesting story – young me fighting the Mann Gulch forest fire in 1949 – and spins it into a fascinating read.

24. The 80/20 Individual – Koch [6] – Koch is a been-there-done-that consultant so he has a lot of insight into that world and good insights into people and corporations. But the book didn’t strongly speak to me.
25. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life – Twyla Tharp [8] – Tharp, a great dance choreographer, shares good thoughts about the creative process.
26. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Goldsmith [8] – Goldsmith is a highly successful executive coach and in this book he gives away his secrets. Great thoughts on people skills.

27. Quirkology – How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things – Wiseman [6.5] – Interesting book about psychological research and practical issues of life.
28. The Long Goodbye [fiction] – Raymond Chandler [4.5] – A novel about a detective; semi-entertaining but nothing learned.
29. How Breakthroughs Happen – Hargadon [7] – Written by an academic but in a readable style, this book underscores the necessity of collaboration when innovating.
30. Complications – Atul Guwande [7] – An interesting, inside perspective on the life of a physician.
31. Fermat’s Enigma – Singh [9] – Phenomenal book that gives keen insight into the world of mathematics. In 1993, Andrew Wile solved a mathematical problem that had eluded mathematicians for 350 years.

32. The Martian – Andy Weir [6] – A novel about an astronaut left behind on Mars. Interesting from a technical/scientific point of view, but the storyline was simple.
33. For One More Day – Albom [5] – A novel about having one more day with a loved one. Not my kind of book, but some nice thoughts about childhood.
34. Triggers – Marshall Goldsmith [7] – Goldsmith is very practical and has some good things to say about adult behavioral change.
35. A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson [7.5] – Bryson is a great journalist that makes any subject interesting, including this one about hiking the Appalachian Trail.

36. Phantom [fiction] – Jo Nesbo [5] – A novel. I just don’t learn much by reading modern fiction.
37. What you Can Change…and What You Can’t – Martin Seligman [7.5] – Seligman is a top-notch academic and psychologist who writes about issues such as addiction, weight loss, depression, and anxiety. It was originally written in 1993 and re-endorsed in 2007 so it doesn’t reflect the latest science in these areas, but it’s still a great read. My biggest take-away is that we humans have a lot of control over ourselves.
38. Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret – Pat Williams [7] – Sometimes we don’t need to be taught, we just need to be reminded. This is a simple but important book that reminds us of some important life principles, espoused by coach John Wooden. Lot’s of good stories and illustrations. My main takeaway was: pay attention to details and fundamentals.
39. Better – A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance – Atul Gawande [7] – Gawande gives us insight into the world of physicians and teachers important life lessons. Fascinating reading.
40.The 4-Hour Workweek – Ferriss [6] – I was skeptical about the book when I first read the title. He does have some good ideas about how to build a virtual, all-outsourced company. He could have said it in less than 374 pages.
41. Scientific Secrets for a Powerful Memory – Vishton [7] – This book/course came from The Great Courses – a terrific source for taking college courses online. I bought the dvd version which comes with a book version of the lectures. Fascinating information.

42. Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication – Ehrman [7] – I read/viewed this series of lectures through The Great Courses. 24, 30-minute lectures and the book for $39; what a deal. Ehrman knows his subject well.
43. Developing the Leaders Around You – Maxwell [5] – I’m frustrated with Maxwell’s books. They all contain numerous lists and endless bullet points and seem random in their focus.
44. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Pink [7] – Good thoughts on getting beyond extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to what Pink defines as the next level: offering people autonomy, mastery and purpose.

45. Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society – John Gardner [7] – This book is timeless. Written in 1963, it still speaks. Gardner talks of major concepts and principles that relate to societies and individuals.
46. On Leadership – John Gardner [7.5] – This book is also timeless. Gardner addresses deep and abiding issues of leadership.
47. Brain Power – Karl Albrecht [8] – Good thoughts on mental flexibility, facts, thinking clearly, logic, making decisions, ideas, and more.
48. Raving Fans – Blanchard and Bowles [3] – Written as a short-story, this book didn’t speak at all to me.

49. Behavioral Economics: When Psychology and Economics Collide – Scott Huettel [6] A Great Courses course with 24 lectures.
50. How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking – Jordan Ellenberg [6] An interesting book but at times the involved and complicated math bogs down the momentum.
51. A Rulebook for Argumentation 4th edition – Anthony Weston [7.5] A short (88 pages), readable, easily understood and helpful book. I really enjoyed it.
52. Management Challenges for the 21st Century – Drucker [7] – I read this terrific book in 2005, and it spoke to me the second read. I particularly like the last chapter, Managing Oneself.

Books that I skimmed

Coming of Age in Samoa – Mead [5] – Margaret Mead was one of our nation’s greatest anthropologist, studying adolescent girls in Samoa. But the book is tedious to read because of the amount of detail.
How To Read and Why – Bloom – [5] – An erudite book on reading; a little beyond my understanding and interest.

Books that I started to read but did not finish because they are poorly written. (Some of these books were so bad that I threw them away; no use taking up limited shelf space.)

Start With Why – Simon Sinek [2] – Disjointed, confusing, just a combination of random thoughts.
Kiss My Asterisk A Feisty Guide to Punctuation and Grammar – Jenny Baranick [2] – I couldn’t get past the continued use of crude phrases and comments.

5 favorite books I read in 2015

These books are not listed in order of preference. I chose one book from five different categories so you, the reader, might benefit from choosing a category that you like.

Historical – In The Kingdom of Ice – Hampton Sides [8] – In 1879 the Jeanette set sail from San Francisco. Her crew hoped to be the first humans to reach the North Pole. This story is a testimony to incredible human perseverance.

General interest – How We Got to Now – Six Innovations That Made The Modern World – Steven Johnson [9] – A fascinating and insightful blend of science and history. A must read.

General morality – Lying – Sam Harris [8] – This short book on one subject is very powerful. Harris sees clearly and communicates well. The bottom line: Don’t ever lie. Honesty is a gift we can give to others.

General lessons on life – The Road to Character – Brooks [9] – A great treatise on character illustrated by a brief biography of major characters (Eisenhower, Augustine, Dorothy Day, and others).

Leadership – Leadership and the Customer Revolution – Heil, Parker Tate [8] – I read this book eight years ago and enjoyed reading it again. It still speaks to important leadership issues, particularly relative to how to delight customers.

In 2015 I “discovered” two terrific authors: Karl Albrect and John Gardner and read several of their books: Albrecht—Brain Power & Social Intelligence; Gardner On Leadership & Self Renewal. I highly recommend everything these two men have written.

Always carry a pencil

taking notes 4.001Capture good thoughts, even if you’re not sure how they might help in the future. —Andrew Hargadon

“The novelist Paul Auster tells a story about growing up as an eight-year-old in New York City and being obsessed with baseball, particularly the New York Giants. The only thing he remembers about attending his first major league baseball game at the Polo Grounds with his parents and friends is that he saw his idol, Willie Mays, outside the players’ locker room after the game. The young Auster screwed up his courage and approached the great centerfielder. ‘Mr. Mays,’ he said, ‘could I please have your autograph?’

“‘Sure, kid, sure,’ the obliging Mays replied. ‘You got a pencil?’

“Auster didn’t have a pencil on him, neither did his father or his mother or anyone else in his group.

“Mays waited patiently, but when it became obvious that no one present had anything to write with, he shrugged and said, ‘Sorry, kid. Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.’

“From that day on, Auster made it a habit to never leave the house without a pencil in his pocket.” [From The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, pg. 29]

Recently I wrote a blog post titled Embrace Significant Thoughts on how significant thoughts can positively affect your life. A meaningful thought can change the trajectory of your life, so always be looking for them. You might find one while reading the newspaper or talking to a friend or listening to the radio or (and these are the best kind) you might have an original thought that is worthy of archiving.

When you come across a significant thought, you must write it down because short-term memory is unreliable. The puniest pen is stronger than the mightiest memory.

So always carry a pencil and paper. You never know when you’re going to encounter a significant thought, and if you don’t write it down, you’ll lose it. Don’t miss out on a notable statement just because you “ain’t got no pencil.”

Obviously, the emphasis of this post is on recognizing, valuing, and recording important thoughts, not on writing utensils, but sometimes the smallest things trip us up, like not having a pencil when we need one.

For instance, several days ago I read this sentence by Thomas Huxley—”Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.” It caught my attention, so I wrote it down, thought about it, talked to some friends about it, and now it’s part of my life. But this bit of wisdom would have been lost to me if I had not written it down.

[reminder]What are your thoughts about this essay?[/reminder]


What? – Significant thoughts can change your life but if you don’t write them down, you’ll forget them. You never know when they will appear, so always be prepared to record them.
So what? – Always be looking for interesting thoughts. Personalize a system for recording them that works for you.
Now what? – Find and record several meaningful thoughts in the next few days.

Four significant thoughts that have become more clear to me in 2015

think3.001In 2015 I was exposed to a lot of new ideas, concepts, and principles, primarily from the 52 books I read. Here are five concepts/principles that significantly affected me. [Click here for a post I wrote on Embrace significant thoughts.]

1. We have control of our lives, therefore we are responsible for our lives.

In the past 12 months, at different times and from different sources, I read the following statements.

  • It became clear to him (Viktor Frankl) that what sort of person he would wind up being depended upon what sort of inner decision he would make in response to his circumstances.
  • Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.  Steve Maraboli
  • Most human beings in their early lives develop only as far as necessary to cope adequately with their environment. (Moshe Feldenkrais) A smaller number, probably less than 20 percent of people, continue learning and growing more than necessary—all through their adult years. These are people who think of themselves as “works in progress” with a sense of growing and becoming that brings joy to their lives.
  • Life is a sum of all your choices.  Albert Camus
  • The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives…It is too bad that more people will not accept this tremendous discovery and begin living it.  William James
  • Don’t play victim or martyr; accept responsibility and authority for the consequences in your life.  Karl Albrecht

Together, these statements have solidified my conviction that ultimately, we have control over our lives because we control our choices, decisions, and attitudes. I am what I am because of the choices I have made. I take responsibility for this and will not blame other people for my misfortunes or adversities.

I wrote about this topic in the post Accept responsibility for your life

2. We need to fine-tune our crap-detector.

I learned this term from Karl Albrecht in his must-read book, Brain Power.

Albrecht says, “The truth is that we human beings are very easily manipulated. We don’t like to admit it, but we’re unconsciously manipulated every day. Some people make a living by capitalizing on the irrational behavior patterns they can induce in others.”

We need to maintain a healthy level of skepticism and be wary of those who want to mislead, deceive, and take advantage of us.

Just having this term—crap-detector—in my vocabulary has helped me be more discerning. I was in a meeting several weeks ago and “beep, beep, beep” my crap-detector starting humming. I had the emotional fortitude to speak up and expose the ruse.

I wrote a post about this titled Be skeptical – fine-tune your crap-detector

3. “Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.” Hitchens

I am not a confrontational person. I’m a diplomat not a fighter. But this statement has challenged my thinking and wrestled me to the mat. It has helped me be more forthright and honest.

4. Our highest joy comes from giving to and serving others.

In 1954, Psychologist Abraham Maslow published a book titled Motivation and Personality in which he suggested that all humans are motivated by a common hierarchy of needs, commonly displayed as a pyramid in which the most basic needs—physiological (air, water, food and shelter)— are placed at the bottom. Once these needs are met we gravitate to the second set of needs—safety and security. When we’re convinced that these needs are met we long for love and a sense of belonging. Then comes self-esteem. The highest aspiration, he suggested, is self-actualization—“What a man can be, he must be.” A teacher must teacher; a painter must paint.

But in his later years, Maslow added another dimension of needs at the top of the pyramid, a need even greater than and more rewarding than self-actualization—self-transcendence—going beyond our own needs and individual experience and giving oneself to others. His final conclusion was that self-actualization is not the ultimate goal in life, but transcending self and focusing on others, is.

We must resist the natural tendency to focus on self and instead focus on others. Our greatest joy in life will come from giving to and serving others.