Get luckier

How lucky do you consider yourself? Very? Not so much? For most of us the answer varies from one day to another, so perhaps it does not have much of a meaning.

But from a scientific perspective, finding out about possible sources of good and bad luck would be enlightening.

It turns out, this is exactly what Prof. Richard Wiseman did in a project called The Luck Factor.

He recruited hundreds of participants, making sure that they fell under one of two categories; those who consider themselves very lucky, and those who think they are mostly unlucky. He interviewed them, got to know them in detail and subsequently formulated a hypothesis.

Then he devised an experiment to test it.

He gave everybody the same newspaper and asked each person to count the number of pictures in it. As he suspected, the unlucky group took a lot of time to do the task, while most members of the lucky group spent only a few seconds on it; they had “luckily” noticed a huge, half-page section that revealed, in writing, the actual number of pictures in the paper.

This finding links luck to attention. If you focus hard, you miss out on opportunities. Curiously, when you lose focus by doing things rather randomly, e.g. casually determine your route to work, randomize the people you meet in parties, etc… you increase the chances of receiving a positive shock that might change things for the better, without much effort.

That is not all though. So take it easy and read more about The Luck Factor, here.

Inception

“Inception” is not just a film where spies wander around in people’s dreams.

It is real.

The owners of a project have a choice to make. They can force their ideas to people that work with/for them. Or they can make a compromise and share the ownership of the ideas with the workers.

Think about it. When you have an idea and explain it to other people, there is a better chance that you will face friction than acceptance. The comments will be mostly critical. The more direct you are, the more resistance you’ll receive.

Instead, take it slow. Make it into a conversation. Let the other party come up with and gain ownership of part of the innovation. That will make sure that all the parties have an intrinsic motivation to improve the idea and achieve the best outcome.

Being direct almost never works.

The right crowd

Say you have a project. Any project. It is still just an idea and you are stuck. You have to take it further, make it bigger. You are missing something.

Who would you discuss it with? How many people would you need to sit around a table, listening to you and actively participating in the storm of ideas and comments that contribute to the project? And what kind of people?

Is “two” the right number; another person that shares your enthusiasm. Would that be enough? Should that person be older or younger than you?

Or maybe you need ten people from different backgrounds. But then perhaps things get out of hand. There could be trust issues. The group could digress from the main topic. You could lose control of the idea.

I suspect the answers to these questions would depend both on the project and its owner. However, I also suspect that when these are controlled for, one could identify the optimum number and composition of individuals that a brain trust should include.

My hypothesis is that one is not enough, three may be too much.

Identity crisis

“What are you then?!”, he exclaimed, as if talking to an extraterrestrial. “I understand what you have been doing… and you did well… I also see what you want to do next. But what are you?”

“Well… ”

It turns out fulfilling the requirements and exceeding the expectations is all nice; just nice though. These are indeed determinants of success, however that success may be defined. But the factor that matters the most, without which one is definitively doomed, is a clear-cut answer to the first question above; an identity.

It turns out you must have a single name; physicist, psychologist, economist, banker, pianist, journalist. Not only that! This name ought to be inscribed on a shiny piece of paper, regardless of your accomplishments, ambitions or talents. You need to have an official label to proceed. If you do not have it, you are out!

Innovation often comes from an interdisciplinary approach, creativity soars when forces from different sources combine. But interdisciplinary is not an identity. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Hence, get an identity: stick to it. Forget everything else. Collect as many diplomas as you can on the subject. When you look at a painting, make sure that you see only one color.

Because, apparently, the more you digress, the less you are.

Merhaba

“Merhaba naber?”

“Iyidir işte ne olsun. Her zamanki gibi.”

“Al benden de o kadar. Misafirlerim var yurtdışından, onları gezdiriyorum.”

“Dur bak benim yeğenin yeni bir restoranı var, Ortaköy’de, oraya da götür.”

Turkish is difficult (not even Google translate helps much). It uses the Latin alphabet and actually has a simple structure but except for words borrowed from languages such as French and Persian, it resembles no other tongue. It is spoken mainly by people living in Turkey and nobody else.

Learning languages is important. However, it requires time and a great deal of effort. What generally happens is that once we achieve a certain basic level, we make plans to go to a country where that language is spoken and continue the education there for a while.  When we do that though, we typically find ourselves surrounded by rookies like us, speaking another common language with each other, hence not being able to learn the language that was aimed for.

So, if you want to learn Spanish, for example, by all means go to Spain, but enroll in an Italian course. That way, you will be surrounded by Spanish people, you will speak Spanish with them outside of the class, you will learn some Italian, which is structurally so similar to Spanish that it will ultimately help your understanding of Spanish.

Another tip is to let go of boring, extra-large language textbooks and read children books before going to sleep. Do this with a dictionary in one hand and you will learn the language in no time.

I recommend Le Petit Nicolas by Goscinny and Sempé. The series has been translated in many languages and Goscinny is the brain behind Asterix and Lucky Luke.

Iyi günler.

B and U

It is very difficult for me to get the right gift to someone. I am not good at that. Some people are amazingly talented though. They remember something you said a few months ago, relate it to something you might need and locate the perfect gift faster than I locate the t-shirt I want to wear in the morning.

I guess one can be creative about the gift itself or the way it is delivered. Getting someone a hot air balloon ride or organizing a surprise party with unexpected guests are all about the gift. The delivery can be equally interesting.

I witnessed a nice delivery of a gift the other day. In fact, there was only the delivery and no gift. Teachers in a primary school in Spain pay a certain amount of money each month to a fund. At the end of the year, this money, which is actually their own, is spent to buy a three-day holiday abroad. Essentially, teachers are buying the holiday to themselves. However, a committee of two people organizes the whole thing, keeping secret the location of the holiday until the very last moment; the check-in counter!

To make things worse, once they decide on the secret location, the funny organizers provide clues about the destination every other week, giving out random information like “we are going north” or, “the name of the place has the letter ‘e’ in it.”

They knew there was an ‘b’ and a ‘u’ in the name this year. They hoped for Istanbul, they went to Edinburgh.

Indirect control

How much control do you have on your life?

That is a question asked by many behavioral scientists and psychologists. It is not easy to answer.

At a superficial level, the control could seem substantial. Once it is determined where and when one is born, who is one’s family etc., it feels that one has free will and lives consciously.

Or does he?

At a deeper level, one theory is pretty discomforting. What if we are mostly guided by an emotional system that we develop over the years, by experience. What if this template that we form by continuously interacting with our environment becomes who we are and dictates what we do at all times.

This would mean that if we had lived in a different environment, we would behave differently. We would become a completely different person, even perhaps a different society. Hence, it is possibly the environment that defines who we are, not ourselves.

The upside is that humans have some control over the environment. By giving it a desirable shape, we can indirectly form ourselves.

In fact, that is what we have been doing for thousands of years.

Here is an excerpt of a speech by Prof. Antonio Damasio on the power of emotions.

The whole interview can be found here.

Pain & pain

I was in the air, tumbling. I did not want to be in this situation, I wasn’t sure where exactly the floor was and frankly, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to land.

It was painful. But it was apparently all my fault. In aikido, the more power you exert on your opponent, the harsher you will be beaten. That is the law. It is the art of using others’ forces against them. It does not matter if one is a small built person or even a child. The harder the opponent attacks, the faster s/he will kiss the floor. It is impressive.

What’s more impressive was the teaching. Around twenty kohai (students) were practicing at the same time and there was no sound except for the noise made by people falling on the mat. There was no talking, no explaining, no dialogue. The senpai (teacher/mentor) of this dojo learned from his mentors that aikido is to be learned by doing, and doing only. When he wishes to show a move, he claps a few times and everybody sits down in a circle. Then he points to a poor soul, beats him with the move several times, shows it from different angles and invites everyone to try it on the person next to them.

Thinking about it, there is little logic behind trying to explain a person, for example, how strong s/he should attack. You just do it, and then calibrate things according to how much pain you can endure. Same is with learning the moves. It turns out when you get beaten with a move twenty times; you quickly learn how to do it well in the process.

The interesting thing was that this mentality left the students a space to shape their own education. It did not force them to do things in a certain way. People were able to have their own approach to the process and learn different things from it. It was a kind teaching environment where everybody intrinsically pushed their own limits and suffered/enjoyed the consequences accordingly.

In short, the system recognized that each person was unique.