Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sinek on Why

Simon Sinek presented a very good TED talk that I that I learned about from a useful site, Presentation Zen. Sinek's premise, which he's published as Start with Why, seems incredibly simple, yet it quite ignored by many speakers. Sinek argues that to persuade people you have to let them know "why" before going on to "what" or "how". Sinek calls upon contemporary brain research to argue that we begin with motives arising out of the emotional part of the brain. When we reflect upon this, it's really old hat dressed up anew: Aristotle emphasized the trio of logos (reasoning, logic), ethos (the trustworthiness of the speaker), and pathos (emotions). Those who persuade effectively have always known this insight, at least intuitively. Sinek, however, does us a favor by reminding us mortals that we cannot take the importance of placing the emotional grounds up front as given. Sinek agrees with the premise of the book Switch, which I'm now reading, that uses the metaphor of the elephant and the rider; the elephant is the emotional drive, the rider the rational decision-maker. Both have to work in tandem to complete a change or switch. Sinek's take away line: MLK didn't give the "I have a plan" speech; he gave the "I have a dream speech." So true! This book will go onto my list to read.

Orlando Patterson on Democracy & Violence

Orlando Patterson, sociology prof at Harvard, wrote an interesting article in the Sunday NYT about democracy and violence. The argument, I think now well refuted, was that democracies wouldn't go to war with each other. Patterson, however, looks at domestic violence and suggests that some democracies have greater violence than their authoritarian peers. Patterson points to street crime in India compared to street crime in China as one example (although the horrific attacks on school children in China demonstrate that no society can claim immunity from random violence). Patterson cites factors that seem to allow greater violence in developing democracies. I cite the article because Americans seem to place so much faith in democracy, although we don't stop to think what democracy means and entails any more than we carefully consider the meaning and implications of love. Both are god terms that users intend to conjure up images of goodness without considering the depth and implications of the terms involved. The Greeks, who left us the records of the first experiments with democracy, executed Socrates. Plato spent much of his adult life trying to figure out a better way. I don't think that he succeeded, but he and other critics surely have raised some legitimate concerns. In the end, I come down with Churchill on democracy: it's the worst form of government, except when compared to all of the rest.

Robert Frank on Economics & Framing

In my continuing crusade to identify sounder economic thinking, I want to share an article by Robert Frank in the NYT. In short, humans are not Spock-like reasoning machines, but we're imperfect decision makers who are often swayed by the deceptive and clearly irrelevant. Frank cites the gold standard studies of Kahneman and Tversky to show how random numbers can influence a totally unrelated estimate of the number of African nations in the U.N. But here's Frank's interesting take on their well-known research: "In such cases, Professors Tversky and Kahneman wrote in 1981, 'the adoption of a decision frame is an ethically significant act.'" Frank goes on to discuss how framing affects political decisions, how lies and deceptions can influence a debate. Frank notes—and I agree here—that the legal system provides a relatively poor vehicle for rectifying such deceptions and outright lies. Rather, Frank cites none other than Adam Smith (a great moral philosopher) in support of the use of social sanctions "as an effective alternative to legal and regulatory remedies". He cites Jon Stewart for his use of humor as a sanction, although Frank doubts that many of the targets of his barbs know or care about Stewart's skewers. Frank concludes by writing: "That's why it's important for the circle of critics to widen — and why we need to remember that framing a discussion appropriately is "an ethically significant act". I concur.