GRANTED: How we really learn and why we should all be more like Goldilocks
There’s a whole genre of books that makes me queasy. They tend to focus on the laws of power, the secrets of networking, and the art of the deal. I think they’re dangerous, because they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. They paint a picture of a Machiavellian world, and readers who follow their advice end up unwittingly creating that world. Refuse to trust people, and you act in ways that make you less trustworthy. Expect the worst in others, and you bring out the worst in others. I’ve even found in my research that reminding people of economic self-interest is enough to make them less compassionate and more deceptive.
As much as I dislike the genre, I’ve found value in sampling it. Not to master the techniques, but to recognize that there are people who will. The better you understand their tricks, the better you can defend against them. After all, when Bob Cialdini wrote his classic book Influence, his first motivation wasn’t to help people become more persuasive. He was tired of being a pushover and he wanted to learn how to protect himself.
I can relate: I started teaching negotiations because I had been a terrible negotiator. I learned that sometimes you can short-circuit manipulative behavior just by gently labeling it. My favorite moment was with a car dealer who opened with an unfair price. I paused, raised my eyebrows, and said, “There’s this negotiation tactic called anchoring, where you make an extreme first offer to get the terms that you want. That’s not what you’re doing, is it?” He started laughing and came back with a much more reasonable counter. Only later did I discover that it’s much more efficient to call four different dealers with your specs and tell them you’ll go with whoever gives you the best offer by the end of the week. But the larger lesson stuck with me: the more a code of behavior violates your principles, the more you often learn by studying it.
Thanks to Diane from Los Angeles, whose question to firstname.lastname@example.org inspired this brief daydream. Answers to this and other questions are at the bottom of this newsletter, in the debut of Wondering.
To entertain you during your downward scroll, here are some of the articles I most enjoyed this month:
1. Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn
People who ask themselves questions (what does this mean, why does it matter?) learn almost 3x more.
2. We Aren't Built to Live in the Moment
Happiness is less about the joy we felt yesterday, and more about the joy we're anticipating tomorrow.
3. Teachers Must Ditch "Neuromyth" of Learning Styles, Say Scientists
If you think you have a learning style—visual, auditory, kinesthetic—think again. The data suggest they're a myth. We all learn best when multiple senses are engaged.
4. Gender Bias in Venture Capital
Male entrepreneurs are "young and promising," female are "young and inexperienced." Ugh. And women's physical appearances are part of the discussion. Double ugh. That this happened in Sweden—one of the world’s most egalitarian countries—suggests the bias is far worse elsewhere.
From My Desk:
5. To Be Resilient, Don't Be Too Virtuous
I was invited to give the commencement speech at Utah State University, and I decided to talk about what’s missing from most commencement speeches. One of my favorite points: be true to yourself, but not so much that your true self never evolves.
6. How to Gain Strength From your Darkest Moments
In an interview about Option B, I discuss one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through studying resilience with Sheryl Sandberg: we become resilient for others. When people are depending on us, we find strength we didn't know we had.
Finally: a lot of people are afraid that robots will take our jobs—even the creative ones. If you're worried about the security of yours, these AI-generated color names should give you hope:
Something tells me we’ll have rock bands next year called Dorkwood and Snowbonk. But what I really want to do is use these in a game of Clue: “I suspect Mr. Bank Butt, with the Burble Simp, in the Stanky Bean.”