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“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

H. G. Wells’ quote has wide-spread applicability beyond nature. Whether it’s an ocelot in Paraguay, a night landing on an aircraft carrier, or a business in Kansas, the key to survival in each case is operational agility and the ability to successfully adapt to a changing environment.

The observation that organizations must adapt to changing conditions is neither surprising, nor is it a new concept. The reason one organization thrives through its adaptability while another struggles to survive has been the subject of academic research as well as articles in the lay press. As one example, a discussion that touched on this phenomenon was presented in Clayton Christensen’s 1997 book, the “Innovators Dilemma.” Christensen suggested that companies that had achieved success by the development of an innovative new product often had challenges sustaining that success as the company grew. One factor was that the corporate culture that helped nurture the company’s innovation eroded as the company grew.

Growth is hard and sociopsychology may play just as important of a role in an adaptable organization as having efficient business processes or using Kanban principles as your product development framework.

150 – the magic number

Bill Gore, inventor of GORE-TEX, observed that once one of his factories employed more that 150 or so people, problems inevitably began to develop and productivity fell. He didn’t identify the reason, but quickly learned that it was better to build a second factory than to try to force the larger one to maintain its operational efficiency. It has been reported[1] that Gore believed that once a unit reaches a certain size, “we decided” becomes “they decided.”[2]

Former Netflix chief talent officer, Patty McCord, has also observed that things begin to change at companies once they approach 150 employees. McCord calls it the stand-on-a-chair number.[3] She maintains that it’s time to reevaluate your communication strategy if a leader stands on a chair to address the company and someone yells “We can’t hear you.”

In one section of his book, “Tipping Point,” Malcom Gladwell discussed Hutterite communities and wrote, “At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens–something indefinable but very real–that somehow changes the nature of community overnight.”[4] Once a colony reached 125, it split to form two colonies. But, why 150?

In his 1992 paper, “Neocortex size as a constraint on group size in primates,” British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, Robin Dunbar, argues that the size of a primate’s neocortex establishes a sociopsychological limit on the number of close relationships that can be maintained. For humans, Dunbar set that number at 150.

Strong ties, weak ties, no ties

The “magic” number of 150 may be related to the concept that relationships among individuals can be characterized in terms of the strength of their relationship. In a seminal publication in 1973, “The Strength of Weak Ties,”[5] author Mark Granovetter discussed interpersonal relationships in terms of strong ties, weak ties, and absent ties. In his paper Granovetter wrote, “Most intuitive notions of the “strength” of an interpersonal tie should be satisfied by the following definition: the strength of a tie is a (probably linear) combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.”

Tie-network

 

By Sadi Carnot at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

One might assume that maximizing strong ties is a sound strategy to maximize personal gain. However, there’s that 150 number that may set a theoretical maximum on the number of strong ties an individual can maintain. More important than a possible limit to the number of strong ties is that weak ties may, in some circumstances, be more important than strong ties. Such is the essence of Granovetter’s paper.

It may seem counterintuitive that a weak tie could be more important than a strong tie. To understand why that may be the case, it may be useful to visualize relationships. As an example, the following graph is a social network analysis of one set of Facebook relationships. [6]

Kencf0618FacebookNetwork

Note that there are three clusters characterized by multiple connections among the individuals. In the business world, those clusters are likely to be called silos. Also note that there are a few connections between the clusters and a few connections to isolated individuals.

One interpretation of Granovetter’s work is that weak ties may be more valuable than strong ties because they represent conduits to possible new information or knowledge that does not exist within the strong tie cluster.

A present-day example could be the case of an individual seeking a new job. The thought is that most of the person’s close friends, the ones with strong ties, already know the person is seeking a job. Furthermore, all their likely job leads will be similar because of closed nature of their cluster. The hypothetical job seeker, might have better luck in finding a job by leveraging their weak ties. It could be one of those 500+ connections they have on LinkedIn may have an opportunity unknown within the cluster.

The strength of weak ties in the business world

If silos within a company are based on strong ties, then one strategy to increase information sharing is to recognize the strength of weak ties and develop a strategy that facilitates their development.

At the core of such a strategy is absolute, unconditional buy-in from the organization’s top leadership. The message to all employees must be unambiguously clear that sharing information is key to the organization’s survival. The sense of a shared mission must be ubiquitous within the organization. That is the hard part. Once the sense of shared mission becomes part of the organization’s DNA, then finding technical methods to propagate that genetic imperative becomes almost trivial.

The yin and yang of managing information in the adaptive organization.

yin-yang-ios-7-symbol_318-39098Organizations must have a two-part technology strategy to collaboration. The first part has been in existence for decades in the form of traditional information storage platforms and collaboration platforms. This category would include Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as SAP, JD Edwards, or PeopleSoft and workflow platforms such as IBM Notes or SharePoint. These systems manage the critical data of the organization and to some extent provide collaboration features. However, the collaboration capabilities tend to be structured that is not conducive to supporting weak ties.

The second part of a successful collaboration strategy of to have a social collaboration platform that facilitates the development and exploitation of weak ties. There is a rapidly expanding number of technology options in this area such as IBM Social, Jive Software, and Slack – to name just a few. The last product on the list, Slack, provides an indication of the popularity of these new generation, social collaboration products. Slack was first launched in August 2013 and two and a half years later had an estimated value of $2.76 billion with over one million daily users. In March 2014, Slack’s daily users had reached 2.3 million and the company value was estimated to be over $4 billion.[7]

To be sure, social business collaboration does not replace traditional information management platforms. An organization needs both. Organizations that devote resources exclusively to improve the efficiency of traditional information management platforms without investing in social business collaboration will likely end up building better silos.

A successful, agile company may never attribute their success explicitly to creating an environment that facilitates the development of weak ties. Nonetheless, behind their success is undoubtedly a social network of employees that have the culture and tools to share information with anyone in the organization. Real-time sharing of information with peripherally known employees is an empowering process and one that ultimately leads to a sense of shared consciousness in the organization.

 

[1] http://www.managementexchange.com/story/innovation-democracy-wl-gores-original-management-model

[2] The Future of Management – Page 94, https://hbr.org/product/future-of-management-hardcover/an/2505-HBK-ENG

[3] https://qz.com/846530/something-weird-happens-to-companies-when-they-hit-150-people/

[4] Page 181, Gladwell’s interview with Bill Gross, a leader of a Hutterite colony outside Spokane, Wa.

[5] https://sociology.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/the_strength_of_weak_ties_and_exch_w-gans.pdf

[6] By Kencf0618 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

[7] https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/03/slack-could-be-worth-4-billion-dollars

 

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Searching for ikigai

August 26, 2017

The retirement trap.

We’ve all seen or heard of the person that eagerly anticipates and then celebrates their retirement. Then, over the course of a few short years, they seem to deteriorate before our eyes. Admittedly that may be a melodramatic characterization, and it’s certainly anecdotal, but research has shown that deterioration after retirement is more than anecdotal, and that it can impact quality of life in diverse areas.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) published a paper in 2016[1] that quantitated some of the adverse outcomes of retirement.[2] They reported that retirement:

  • Decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by about 40%.
  • Increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by about 40%.
  • Increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by about 60%.
  • Increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by about 60%.

It’s not just retirement that can be detrimental to one’s health, it’s the length of time that one is retired that may be problematic, which is ironic as people tend to lionize early retirement. The same IEA paper noted the following sequelae of doubling the number of years in retirement.2

  • Decreases the likelihood of being in ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ self-assessed health by between 10% and 30%.
  • Increases the probability of suffering from clinical depression by 17%.
  • Increases the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by 22%.
  • Increases the probability of taking a drug for such a condition by 19%.

Ikigai – an intervention to ameliorate retirement deterioration?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that simplistically means believing that one’s life is worth living. One of the best ways to understand what Ikigai means is to study the following Venn Diagram from the Toronto Star.[3]

Ikigai

Ikigai is the confluence of doing something one loves, something they view as important, it’s something they are good at it, and are in some way they are rewarded for their activity. It sounds plausible, but does finding the sweet spot of ikigai improve health outcomes? Actually, that may very well be the case.

Ikigai and health

A paper published in 2008 followed 43,000 Japanese adults for seven years and measured health outcomes and having a sense of ikigai.[4] The researchers’ statistically significant conclusion was “subjects who did not find a sense of ikigai were associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality.”

If one accepts that a having a sense of ikigai is beneficial, the next challenge is how to achieve that state. Many people find it through rewarding work or volunteer activity. I suspect very few find it through social media. Although, I suppose avid Tweeters may take exception to that statement.

The nascent retiree

The thing for nascent retirees to understand is that they are entering a potentially challenging period of their lives. The much-anticipated pot at the end of the retirement rainbow may be gold salts – not a pot of gold. Retirement is not a time to kick back and do nothing, It’s a time to explore new interests and new ways you can make a difference in the world.

Playing golf or tennis every day may sound wonderful, but engaging in purposefully activity generates dividends on far many more levels. Retirement is a time to search for your ikigai.

[1] https://iea.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Work%20Longer,%20Live_Healthier.pdf

[2] https://iea.org.uk/in-the-media/press-release/retirement-causes-a-major-decline-in-physical-and-mental-health-new-resea

[3] https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/2016/09/06/why-north-americans-should-consider-dumping-age-old-retirement-pasricha.html

[4] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5255643_Sense_of_Life_Worth_Living_Ikigai_and_Mortality_in_Japan_Ohsaki_Study

The eyes of an old dog

July 10, 2017

d0293ccec965527dadc64266b4008eeb--puppy-dog-eyes-old-dogs

There’s nothing like looking into the eyes of an old dog.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a dog person and will look into the eyes of any canine, but the eyes of an old dog are different than the eyes of a puppy.

Puppy eyes are frenetic and fun, but old dogs eyes are focused are wise. They are knowing and comforting. They are a warm sweater on a cold night – a cognac in front of a fire. Puppy eyes are a T-shirt and a margarita. There’s a place for both, but it takes decades to make cognac.

It could be that I’m not exactly young myself and can see in the old dog’s eyes the reflection of what I feel and know. Old dogs are quiet, reserved, and circumspect. They’ve been around the block a few times and have the physical and emotional scars to prove it. So do I.

Old dogs know what works and doesn’t work in life. A lifetime of trials and errors has honed their soft gaze to be one of understanding, compassion and empathy. When I look into an old dog’s eyes I feel a bond. A bond of understanding that youth is fleeting, and always, as the saying goes, wasted on the young.

But at the same time, a puppy can never fully appreciate chasing a squirrel in the same way an old dog savors the pursuit. For a young dog, the squirrel is merely a brief distraction. For the old dog, the squirrel is a challenge, a threat, and the foil that keeps her in the game. Without the squirrel to chase, the old dog would wither. Maybe the same is true for the human that retires too early in life.

It’s good to be an old dog. I just wish they had more time to chase the squirrels now that they know how important it is. But then, I wish I had more time to chase my own squirrels too.

C’est la vie.

DSC00087I didn’t know it at the time, but a camera that was broken in 1963 would become my first lesson in mindfulness and would shape my approach to photography for the rest of my life.

When I was younger, I enjoyed taking pictures of landscapes, beaches, and sunsets. Technique was important – depth of field, aperture, shutter speed, film speed, and of course, the 18% gray card. Composition was equally important. I would patiently wait for just the right lighting or for a passing cloud to cast a shadow in just the right place. I viewed my surroundings through the viewfinder of the camera.

The broken camera

Some of the photographs were breathtaking and awe-inspiring, or at least that was my youthful opinion. But all of that abruptly changed when I read a passage in Colin Fletcher’s 1968 book, The man who walked through time. [1] The book chronicled Fletcher’s solo walk through the length of the Grand Canyon in 1963. This is what he wrote on page 120.

In order to photograph a scene that for interest and balance demanded a figure in the foreground, I had mounted my camera on its lightweight collapsible tripod for a delayed- action self-portrait shot. But as I moved into position a gust of wind sent camera and tripod crashing over. And afterward the shutter refused to function.

I had brought only this one camera down into the Canyon, and at first I simmered with frustration. But within an hour I discovered a new fact of life. I recognized, quite clearly, that photography is not really compatible with contemplation. Its details are too insistent.

They are always buzzing around your mind and clouding the fine focus of appreciation. You rarely detect this interference at the time, and cannot do much about it even if you do. But that morning of the Serpentine reconnaissance, after the camera had broken, I found myself freed from an impediment I had not known existed. I had escaped the tyranny of film. Now, when I came to something interesting, I no longer stopped, briefly, to photograph and forget; I stood and stared, fixing truer images on the emulsion of memory.

And the reconnaissance, set free, became a carnival—a bonus carnival, like one of the unexpected half-holidays we used to get at school for events quite beyond our control, such as the birth of yet another child to the headmaster’s gratifyingly fecund wife. The carnival spirit carried me up the steep side-slopes of Serpentine Canyon and along the Tonto Trail. When I got back to camp it was still there. And it lasted to the end of my stay in William Bass’s little bay. To the very end.

Photography interferes with mindfulness

Fletcher’s observation that “photography is not really compatible with contemplation” resonated with me. In my early years, I had been so obsessed with capturing the perfect, breathtaking sunset on film that I forgot to enjoy the actual sunset before it turned to gray. I didn’t know it at the time but Fletcher’s passage was my first introduction to practical mindfulness. Thank you for that Colin, RIP.[2]

For a brief period of time, I resisted taking any photos and instead just practiced enjoying the moment. As it turned out, I couldn’t sustain an absolute separation from my camera. I realized that, at least for me, taking photos was not about competing with Ansel Adams [3] or Peter Lik [4] for the best landscape (spoiler alert – they win!). Rather, I realized that taking pictures was a means of capturing an impression or a memory, not recording a landscape – no matter how dramatic it may be.

The lowly snapshot

I essentially abandoned photography in favor of taking snapshots. The lowly snapshot is spontaneous, and, if I’m doing it right, always has a person in the frame. Some of my early learning won’t die. Composition really does matter – even for snapshots taken with a cell phone.

I’ve looked back over decades of photos I’ve taken and I inevitably quickly pass over any shots featuring just a sunset or a beach. After a few years, all of those look more or less the same. Not so for the pictures with people. They capture so much more of the moment – my thoughts at the time, my feelings, the conversations taking place, the passing of time – all of the things that make us human.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t snap an occasional picture of a sunset, but when I do it plays a mere supporting role to the true main characters – people.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Walked-Through-Time-ebook/dp/B00OEXJB5E

[2] http://www.colinfletcher.com/Colin_Fletcher_Home.html

[3] http://anseladams.com/

[4] http://www.lik.com/thework/desert-dunes/beyond.html

 

With the release of the Republicans’ new tax reform legislation imminent, I thought it might be a good time to revisit a Confronting Mediocrity post from 2010 titled, Top fractiles income share and the “good old days.” [1] The reasons for the renewed relevance of the post is that the Republicans’ new tax reform plan will inevitably have generous tax cuts for the wealthy while it will have minimal tax cuts for the working class. It will be the most recent attempt to put lipstick on the pig that is known variously as trickle down economics, supply-side economics, Reaganomics, or, as George H.W. Bush characterized it in 1980 – Voodoo economics.

Whatever shade of lipstick you put on the pig, it’s still a pig. Reaganomics didn’t work in the 1980s and a reincarnation of it will fail in 2017. The reason is the basic premise is flawed, unless the objective is to make the rich richer at the expense of throttling the economy. An oversimplification of the trickle down premise is that giving hefty tax cuts to the wealthy will incent them to build more factories and make more products thereby creating jobs for workers. Under this conceit, the economic benefit of a tax cut to the wealthy would trickle down to the working class.

Let be crystal clear about one thing. Trickle down economics simply does not work. It’s backwards. Henry Ford new that when he decided to double the minimum wage for his employees to $5.00 per day. And, it wasn’t a pay hike driven by altruism. In his 1926 book, Today and Tomorrow [2], Mr. Ford wrote,

“The owner, the employees, and the buying public are all one and the same, and unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers. One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.”

It’s a simple concept, really. Put another $5,000 in the pocket of a millionaire through a tax break and what happens? Nothing, except maybe it’s invested in some equity fund. On the other hand, put $5,000 in the hand of a worker and what happens? He or she buys stuff. They consume, and the products they consume must be built by someone, so employment increases to build the products to meet the increased demand.

In 2012, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service published a study titled Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. [3] A key paragraph from the report summarizes their findings by saying,

“The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.”

This report was nothing less than a bombshell to the tenaciously-held core belief of Republicans that Ronald Regan’s trickle down philosophy was economic scripture. To acknowledge that trickle down may not work would be blasphemy, so Senate Majority Leader, Republican Mitch McConnell forced the report to be taken down. [4]

Then, in 2015, the International Monetary Fund published a paper, Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective [5], that effectively drove a stake of reality through the heart of the trickle down argument dismissing it as a fatally flawed principle and confirming what Henry Ford believed 90 years earlier. The report summarized their findings by stating,

“We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down.”

It seems that most now believe that the unequal distribution of incomes in the United States is a core issue that must be addressed. It is an issue that Democrats have been championing for decades and one that even some Republicans are begrudging acknowledging the impact of income disparity.

I will end this post where I began it by referencing the 2010 post in Confronting Mediocrity. The chart below was presented in that post and clearly demonstrates that as the top marginal tax rate decreased, the income disparity increased. And for that we can thank the failure of Regan’s trickle down economics.

Income share and top marginal tax rate

The era of broad prosperity between 1947 and 1974 coincided with a high top marginal tax rate and a relatively evenly distributed income share.

So, in the coming weeks, be alert for Republicans proposing tax reform based on the premise that preferentially benefiting the wealthy would create jobs and spur the economy. That concept is now fully debunked. Q.E.D.

[1] https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2010/11/21/distributionofearnings/

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Today-Tomorrow-Special-Fords-Classic/dp/0915299364

[3] http://www.dpcc.senate.gov/files/documents/CRSTaxesandtheEconomy%20Top%20Rates.pdf

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/business/questions-raised-on-withdrawal-of-congressional-research-services-report-on-tax-rates.html

[5] https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Staff-Discussion-Notes/Issues/2016/12/31/Causes-and-Consequences-of-Income-Inequality-A-Global-Perspective-42986

Blasting_of_a_chimney_at_the_former_Henninger_Brewery_in_Frankfurt_am_Main,_Germany

Entropy: “Lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” [1]

I first wrote about the metaphor of sociopolitical entropy in a 2010 posting [2] noting that President Obama’s challenge to restore order and organization in Afghanistan was considerably more difficult than it was to plunge that country further into the chaos of war through military action.

The concept that creation is more difficult than destruction is certainly not a new idea and examples can be found in many disciplines. In 1887, James JH Hamilton, principal of schools in Osceola Mills, Pennsylvania wrote in The American, “But it is easier to destroy that create; to tear down than to build up.” [3] That dichotomy is is no more evident than the contrasting approaches to the presidency by President Obama and Donald Trump.

Entropy opposites: Obama vs. Trump

President Obama was a builder who tried to constantly add order to systems. His efforts were manifest as policies to protect the environment, to provide health care, to stabilize conflict-weary regions, and to elevate America’s international stature and influence through diplomacy. This reasoned, policy-based approach to improving the lives of the body politic was tedious, complex, and time consuming. In a word, it was hard.

In stark contrast, Trump appears to have neither the interest nor the aptitude to take a policy-based approach to building a better America. Instead, at every opportunity he destroys or dismantles the structure and fabric that others before him have so laboriously built. In the Trumparian view of the world, there would be few regulations and little governmental structure to impede his holy grail – big business profits.

His goal is to increase the sociopolitical entropy at every opportunity. Why? Because it’s easy. One does not need a fully staffed State Department if international policies are considered superfluous. One does not need a fully functioning White House staff as long as there are family members to fill key positions. [4]

Is there an upside in the entropy-laden world of Trump?

There is if you are a large corporation that lacks a moral compass and has no encumbrances to polluting the environment to earn a few pennies more for your shareholders and your executive salaries. Corporations are myopic entities and are oblivious to species-threatening issues such as climate change. I wonder if there are any board rooms that consider that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction. [5] No, the SEC 10k takes priority.

Some things are just hard

Trump seems to think there’s an easy solution to everything. Why else would he think a 66-page healthcare bill would work? Oh right, he did say, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” [6] Actually Donald, they did. Why would he unfurl a complex flowchart showing the regulatory process needed to build a highway?[7] Because his approach would be to eliminate those complex regulations and start laying asphalt. Nobody knew building a road could be so easy.

I understand the concept of entropy may be too much of a metaphor for Trump and his die-hard supporters, so allow me to end with a quote that may have more credibility for them: “Doctor. As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create.” – Spock speaking to Doctor McCoy in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Believe me, with Trump as president, there have been more than a few times I wanted to say, “Beam me up, Scotty!”

 

[1]In physics entropy is a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.

‘the second law of thermodynamics says that entropy always increases with time’ https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/entropy

[2] Obama, Afghanistan and the second law of thermodynamics. August 1, 2010, Confronting Mediocrity

https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2010/08/01/entrop/

[3] The American: A National Journal, Vol XIV-No.356 Page 105ff, June 4, 1887

[4] http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/3/14/14907868/trump-empty-appointments-trade

[5] The Holocene extinction event. Is our species’ destiny to be known as “The Burners?”, April 13, 2104, Confronting Mediocrity, https://confrontingmediocrity.net/2014/04/13/the-holocene-extinction-event-is-our-species-destiny-to-be-known-as-the-burners/

[6] http://www.politico.com/story/2017/02/trump-nobody-knew-that-health-care-could-be-so-complicated-235436

[7] http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/06/heres-the-huge-chart-donald-trump-is-dragging-around-to-show-how-hard-it-is-to-start-an-infrastructure-project.html

 

 

 

dead-canary

How many more canaries must die in the coal mine that is Donald Trump’s administration before America realizes that this president is toxic to the very fabric of what truly makes America great – fairness, equality, and diversity? The reality is that, for some people, no amount of metaphorical, avian carnage will result in that realization.

Most people can probably absorb one or two bad decisions or dubious behaviors by a president by considering them aberrations. But, surely there must be a tipping point where the aberrations become so frequent and so egregious that they can no longer be rationalized as outliers, and they must be recognized for what they are – the immature, aberrant, destructive behaviors that define the essence of the current president.

The backfire effect

For the majority of voters in the 2016 election, that tipping point had already been reached as evidenced by Hilary Clinton winning the popular vote. However, there is a segment of emotionally entrenched Trump supporters, nay zealots, for whom no amount of fact-based information will diminish their passionate support of Trump. There is a name for that phenomenon. It is known as the backfire effect that was first described in a paper by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler titled “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions.” [1]

The backfire effect is succinctly summarized in a posting [2] by David McRaney – “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.” The same article also cites the 2006/2007 work of Nyhan and Reifler where they demonstrated the backfire effect by measuring people’s response to fake news articles. [3] Yes, “fake news.”

I doubt Nyhan and Reifler could have realized the impact fake news and the confirmation bias of the backfire effect would have in the 2016 election. I doubt anyone did, with the exception of Vladimir Putin and his cyber warfare experts at the FSB, a.k.a., Федеральная служба безопасности Российской Федерации – (ФСБ).

What to do

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the solution is to recognize that responding to Trump supports with facts will likely never change their mind. It is a waste of your time to engage in fact-based discussions unless there is an acknowledgement by all that they may be wrong. Since that is unlikely to happen with emotion-based beliefs, there are three things everyone should do.

  1. Engage with your representatives in Congress and let them know your opinions. Every member tracks calls and emails to help them know the pulse of their constituents.

To call your Member of Congress:
US Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121

To locate your Member on-line:
U.S. House of Representatives: www.house.gov
U.S. Senate: www.senate.gov

  1. Vote! Not just for the presidential horse race every four years, but in off-year elections. Congress is one of three equal branches of government and is worthy of your ongoing attention.
  2. Don’t waste your time on social media trying to convince a Trump supporter that they’re wrong. It won’t work and may well backfire.

 

[1] https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

[2] https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/

[3] http://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/pdf/nyhan-reifler%202007%20When%20Predictions%20Fail.pdf

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