Here is a brief excerpt from an article published by the Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com “Intelligent Investor” columnist Jason Zweig. He pulls up a chair on Mean Street to explain how J.P. Morgan violated a simply rule in its $2 billion trading loss: You must not fool yourself. To read the complete article, check out other resources, obtain subscription information, and register for email alerts, please click here.
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When J.P. Morgan Chase’s JPM chief executive, James Dimon, disclosed a $2 billion trading loss during a hastily organized conference call on Thursday, he said: “This trading may not violate the Volcker rule, but it violates the Dimon principle.”
Mr. Dimon didn’t say what the Dimon principle is, and a spokesman for the nation’s largest bank by assets didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Feynman principle, however, is simple: “You must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool,” as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman put it.
Asked on April 13 whether J.P. Morgan’s trading operation posed significant risks to the bank, Mr. Dimon called it a “tempest in a teapot.” The bank’s chief financial officer insisted the London-based division was merely “protecting that balance sheet,” adding that J.P. Morgan was “very comfortable with the positions we have.”
The moguls of J.P. Morgan, in letting a complex risk run wild and denying any potential for error until it was too late, are a reminder that one of the biggest dangers in finance is self-deception.
For investors, the bigger the commitment, the more certain they become that they must have been right to make it—and the harder it becomes to let go.
The literal meaning of the word “invest”—from the Latin vestire, to clothe or dress—is to wrap oneself up in something. Experiments at racetracks and elsewhere have shown that people who bet on an outcome become up to three times more confident that it will occur than people who didn’t put up any money.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Michael Michalko is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best sellers Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work), and Cracking Creativity (The Secrets Of Creative Genius). As an officer in the United States Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems. After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques. Michael later applied these creative-thinking techniques to problems in the corporate world with outstanding successes. Michael has provided keynote speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations, such as DuPont, Kellogg’s, General Electric, Kodak, Microsoft, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, USA, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Gillette, and Hallmark, to associations and governmental agencies. In addition to his work in the United States, Michael has worked with clients in countries around the world.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Michalko: My mother was my greatest influence because she taught me by example that your life and happiness are determined by what you choose to or refuse to do.
We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide that what makes us significant or insignificant. We decide to be creative or to be indifferent. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. In the end, the meaning of our own life is decided by what we choose to do or what we refuse to do. And as we decide and choose, so are our destinies formed.
Morris: The great impact on your professional development? How so?
Michalko: While in the military I observed that the more an expert one became in an area of military specialization, the less creative and innovative that person became. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Consequently, the majority of the generals had a fixed mindset about what is possible and what is not. The creative and innovative solutions to military problem came from the youngest noncoms and officers who still had open minds.
I discovered the same paradox in civilian life. An example of this is when Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, attempted, without success, to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t gotten through college yet.”
It seems that once a person has formed an expectation concerning the subject being observed–this influences future perceptions of the subject. Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet, a renowned physiology professor and expert, declared, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the experts. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Michalko: The realization that most educated people have a fixed mindset that encourages robotic thinking and determines a person’s outlook and behavior. Think of the fixed mindset shaped like an upside down funnel. At the wide bottom, there is a wide variety of different experiences. At the top, there is the narrow opening which represents a fixed mindset that superimposes itself on all the experiences. Once people with a fixed mindset have settled on a perspective, they close off all other lines of thought. Whereas, a creative thinker’s mind is shaped like a right side up funnel with the narrow opening over one experience. At the wide top there is a wide variety of different ways to see and think about the one experience. This represents a creative thinker’s growth mindset.
Imagine a mud puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world. I find myself in this hole and I find that it fits me perfectly. In fact, it fits me so well, it must have been made to have me in it. Everything is fine and there is no need for me to worry about changing anything.” Yet every day as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up, the puddle gets smaller and smaller. Yet the puddle frantically hangs on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because the puddle believes the world is what it is and was meant to have him in it. The moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.
People with fixed mindsets are like the mud puddle. They were taught by authority figures that their genes, family, education and environment have determined their destiny, and they, like the atom, just are. Many of them were taught that they are not creative. Consequently, they believe they are a certain kind of person and there is not much they can do to change that. They might be able change some small things but the important part of who they are can’t be changed.
It was this realization that encouraged me to research, write and teach the importance of understanding these cognitive mindsets, how they influence us and how we can easily change the dynamics of a mindset and change the way we think and see things.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Michalko: What I learned from observing and listening to academics in college was their curious tendency to assimilate new information into their pre-existing views. Their mental image of the established view interferes with their perception and understanding of new ideas and concepts. In the case of real life, physicists could not see Einstein’s theory of relativity because of their established, accepted view. For years, they tried to incorporate his view into the established view without success.
Experts always try to assimilate new insights, ideas and concepts into their view. What happens in real life is, despite ambiguous stimuli, people form some sort of tentative hypothesis about what they see. The longer they are exposed to this hypothesis, the greater confidence they develop in this initial and perhaps erroneous impression, so the greater the impact this initial hypothesis has on subsequent perceptions.
Suppose an expert has an established theory about the danger of boxes and their effect on human life and the environment. The theory is that boxes might be harmful and the use of boxes should be regulated. Now, suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. The expert’s approach to an event like this would be that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. As silly as this example is, it is analogous to what is happening in the world of global warming. If you survey the history of science, it is apparent that most individuals who have created radical innovations did not do so simply because they knew more than others. One of the most important experiences Noble laureate, Richard Feynman, had in his life was reading a copy of James Watson’s typescript of what was to become his famous book, The Double Helix, about his discovery, together with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA. Feynman had become unproductive and began to believe he had run out of ideas. The discovery Feynman made was that Watson had been involved in making such a fundamental advance in science, and yet he had been completely out of touch with what everybody else in his field was doing.
As told in Watson’s classic memoir, The Double Helix, it was a tale of boundless ambition, impatience with authority and disdain, if not contempt, for received opinion. “A goodly number of scientists,” Watson explained, “are not only narrow-minded and dull but also just stupid.” Feynman wrote one word, in capitals: DISREGARD on his notepad when he read that. This word became his motto. That, he said, was the whole point. That was what he had forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress. The way for thinkers like himself to make a breakthrough was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and make their own interpretations and guesses.
So Feynman “stopped trying to keep up with what others were doing and went back to his roots, comparing experiment with theory, making guesses that were all his own.” Thus he became creative again, as he had been when he had just been working things out for himself, before becoming a famous physicist in academia. While this is an important lesson for science, it is a supreme lesson for any discipline where “current knowledge” can be dominated by theories that are simply incoherent.
Make your own interpretations of your experiences to shape your own beliefs and concepts about your world. This is the lesson Feynman called the most important of his life. This is the lesson I learned during my college years.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Michael cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Psychology Today Blog: Creative Thinkering
Facebook Fan Page
Opinions vary about which forms are the most common and many of those opinions offer excellent examples of dumb thinking. The opinions I now share are those of several thinkers whom I personally admire. They include Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul, Marcus Aurelius, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, William James, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman. If you have any complaints, take it up with them.
1. Zero-Sum: Movies or radio, radio or television, bound volumes or electronic reading devices, profitability or community service…you get the idea. With rare exception (e.g. a moral crisis), it is not a matter of either/or; rather, both…but with (perhaps) different proportionality.
2. “They say….”: This involves relying on a source (or sources) that cannot be verified. It is especially common among those who have little (if any) faith in their own opinions and/or launch the opinion of an unidentified source as a trial balloon and/or never express an opinion about anything until after they have obtained a near-unanimous consensus among several sources, such as a shared assumption that “The earth is definitely flat.”
3. “If you build it, they will come.” That may have been true of a cornfield in Iowa but most of the time, thinking and doing anything within an information vacuum will result in serious errors of judgment. There are countless examples but here are two in retailing: websites that are created at great cost and “go live” online and retail stores located in high-traffic malls (leased, staffed, and stocked at great cost) that fail to attract more than a few dozen visitors each day, if that. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Build what people really want even if they don’t know it yet, build it better than anyone else does, and people will buy it.”
4. Doing something the same way again and again, then expecting different results: This is Einstein’s definition of insanity. James O’Toole characterizes it as evidence of “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Charles Duhigg has much of value to say about repetitive thinking and behavior in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. However, I think more than habit is involved. Denial, for example, and delusion. Perhaps some narcissism. This form of dumb thinking — probably more than any other — helps to explain why most human wounds are self-inflicted.
What to do? One good starting point would be to check out Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management in which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton propose six specific strategies for producing, evaluating, selling, and applying business knowledge:
o Stop treating old ideas as if they were brand new.
o Be suspicious of ”breakthrough” ideas and studies.
o Celebrate and develop collective brilliance.
o Emphasize drawbacks as well as virtues.
o Use success (and failure) stories to illustrate sound practices, but not in place of valid research method.
o Adopt a neutral stance toward ideologies and theories.
How and why our location on “the introvert-extrovert spectrum” influences most (if not all) of our decisions and opinions
Throughout most of her book, Susan Cain takes a balanced approach to the immensely difficult task of examining the advantages and disadvantages of being primarily an introvert as well as those of being primarily an extrovert. I use the term “primarily” in the context of culture as well as one’s temperament, personality, preferences, tendencies, and (yes) volition. “If given a choice…” is a helpful phrase. Some people dread being the center of attention whereas the behavior of others indicates a pathological need for it. Not all introverts are shy and reluctant, however, and not all extroverts are bombastic and impulsive. Moreover, expediency can also come into play. As Walt Whitman affirms in “Song of Myself,” each person is “large”…and contains “multitudes.”
When writing her book, Cain was guided and informed by research in social science (e.g. Carl Jung, Jerome Kagan, Elaine Aron, C.A. Valentine, David Winter) supplemented by what she had learned from her own observations. She examines the inadequacies of several concepts such as charismatic leadership, the New Groupthink, the “Extrovert Ideal” (i.e. “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight”), being or at least seeming “cool,” collaborative innovation, and being a more “assertive” student in the classroom. Historians’ accounts and media coverage must share at least some of the blame for widespread but remarkably durable misconceptions about eminent persons such as Warren Buffett, Dale Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Steven Spielberg, and Steve Wozniak. However great their impact on others may be, all are (or were) essentially introverted. What else do they share in common? They are renowned for being thoughtful, indeed reflective, tending to take more time than others do to make sound decisions and to reach correct conclusions.
Ironically, Carnegie is among the pioneers of self-help programs that emphasize “winning friends and influencing people,” the title of a book first published in 1936 that continues to be a bestseller. According to Cain, Carnagey (who later changed his name “likely to evoke Andrew Carnegie, the great industrialist”) was a good-natured but insecure high school student. He was skinny, unathletic, and fretful. His subsequent career from farmboy to salesman to public- speaking icon demonstrates a shift in America “from what influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality – and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.”
By the end of the book, Cain seems to include in the introvert category almost anyone who is “reflective, cerebral, bookish, unassuming, sensitive, thoughtful, serious, contemplative, subtle, introspective, inner-directed, gentle, calm, modest, solitude-seeking, shy, risk-averse, thin-skinned.” Surely many (most?) of those who are extroverts also demonstrate one (if not several) of these attributes, at least occasionally. How would she categorize, for example, Richard Feynman?
The much more important point, in my opinion, is that assigning a label such as introvert or extrovert to someone denies the human complexity to which Whitman referred. Obviously, some people are more or less introverted or extroverted than others. It’s also obvious, that some situations (usually in a social context) require outgoing behavior whereas other situations (usually in an intellectual or spiritual context) require solitude, tranquility, perhaps even isolation
For me, some of Cain’s most valuable material is provided in Chapter 11, “On Cobblers and Generals” (especially pages 250-258) when she discusses the implications and consequences of many (most?) schools that are designed for extroverts. “The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself.” She goes on to observe, “The school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time.” Cain offers several key points for teachers to consider (e.g. “Teach all kids to work independently”), followed by several key points for parents to consider if they able to select a school (e.g. one that hires and supports teachers “who seem to understand the shy/serious/introverted/sensitive temperament”). I agree with Cain that appearance is not reality…but the fact remains, that the misconceptions she repudiates in her book are no less “real” because they are wrong, nor are “the personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.”
Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011)
Dreamers think about it…visionaries see it and then make it happen, at whatever cost
The material in Ten Steps Ahead is based on what Erik Calonius learned during his research (including interviews of various business visionaries) from which he gained a much better understanding of “what separates successful business visionaries from the rest of us.”
The word “successful” is critically important, reminding us of Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” No one can deny what Walt Disney, Edwin Land, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Jeff Hawkins accomplished, not only within the business world but also in terms of the global impact they and their respective companies have had. Calonius also focuses on other visionaries such as Orville and Wilbur Wright, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and more recently, Richard Feynman whose achievements also indicate that the brain is a visionary device whose primary function is to create pictures.
Throughout human history, innovator thinkers can usually be divided into two classes: dreamers and visionaries. Those in either group tend to be “ten steps ahead of others” in terms of what their brains “see” but only the visionaries are driven (by forces that Calonius explains brilliantly) to make what they “see” become a reality.
Readers will appreciate Calonius’ strategic insertion of insightful comments throughout his narrative. For example:
Former Apple CEO John Sculley: “Both of them [i.e. Edwin Land and Steve Jobs] had this ability to – well, not invent products but discover products. Both of them said these products have already existed, it’s just that no one had ever seen them before. We were the ones who discovered them.” (Page 52)
Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer on a term they defined: “Emotional intelligence involves the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” (Page 64)
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, one that heralds the most discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but, ‘That’s funny.’” Isaac Asimov (Page 73)
Andy Hertzfeld on Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field”: “It’s a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, and indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If one line of argument failed to persuade, he would deftly switch to another. Sometimes he would throw you off balance by suddenly adopting your position as his own, without acknowledging that he ever thought differently…We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature.”
Time and again, Calonius cites an example of a visionary business leader who is willing to suffer and struggle, to put everything at risk, when pursuing a dream that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras would probably characterize as a commercial-strength BHAG (i.e. Big Hairy Audacious Goal). There are countless situations in which visionaries see what no one else sees but are oblivious to the serious dangers that are obvious to everyone else.
Few of those who read this book are or ever will be a successful business visionary (“ten steps ahead”) but all who read it can learn valuable lessons from the material that Calonius provides and be 3-5 steps ahead of where they were before. There are lessons about how to overcome what I characterize as “the invisibility of the obvious” in order to recognize – having developed imaging skills – the opportunities and possibilities that would otherwise be missed. Also, how to overcome resistance, rejection, and ridicule with courage and conviction. Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, they are determined “to strive, to seek, to find…and not to yield.” And as Calonius points out, one factor in success is under our control: “the number of at-bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”
I congratulate Erik Calonius on a brilliant achievement. To those who read it, I presume to suggest that there are still lots of fat juicy dragons out there roaming around. Go get ‘em!
In his book Eight Steps Ahead: What Separates Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us, published by Portfolio/Penguin (2011), Erik Calonius reveals what makes visionaries tick and how they develop their extraordinary powers. We learn, for example,
• How Steve Jobs used intuition to guide him from the Apple I to the Mac, and on to the iPhone and iPad
• How a block of wood and a chopstick helped Jeff Hawkins develop the first PalmPilot
• Why John Lennon took a nap before writing “In My Life”
• How Richard Branson had the insight to trademark “Virgin Galactic Airways” in the early 1990’s, when private spaceflight was still science fiction
• Why Richard Feynman made breakthroughs in quantum mechanics by imagining he was an electron
What do they and other business visionaries share in common? Here are five key points:
1. They “find something that the rest of us have been missing” and later describe as “so obvious”…but we didn’t see it before.
2. They “share a willingness to suffer and struggle for their dreams.” As Anders Ericsson’s research on peak performance reveals, they are not only willing to commit 10,000 (or more) hours to whatever must be learned, mastered, etc. to achieve the results they seek.
3. They “see” in great detail what does not as yet exist or at least is not as yet visible to others. For example, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) saw the Pieta and David; everyone else only saw two huge blocks of granite.
4. They “get out into the world and experience things, and from that shape their ideas.” For example, George de Mestral in Colombier, near Lausanne, Switzerland, who took long walks with his dog in the woods each day and grew weary of removing burrs from its hair. In 1941, he envisioned what we now know as Velcro, a hock-and-loop fastener inspired by the burr’s interaction with hair.
5. Their drive to see their dreams fulfilled “exceeds rational behavior…in fact, it defines what a visionary is” but their enthusiasm, passion, and determination are usually contagious. They are driven to make something better…hopefully, MUCH better. Steve Jobs concedes without apology that he is only interested in “insanely great ideas.”