Social media is a strangely compelling hunt for novelty. But why are we so addicted to find and and sharing surprising content? It turns out, we share or we die.
We don’t know what this coming year will bring, but the one thing we can do is to develop our ability to face the inevitable challenges and not let our values crumble when things get hard. “Character,” says Dr Henry Cloud, “is our ability to meet the demands of reality." This year I’m challenging myself to be more mindful of my values and more deliberate in developing my character. If you’d like to join me, read on!
“Positive Psychology” is an academically grounded field based on understanding the human psyche in terms of our potential not our pathology. One of the most important findings to emerge from this field is that we are happiest when we’re playing to our character strengths.
So the first step towards developing your character is to take an inventory of yourself. You may have a good sense of your character strengths already. Perhaps you’re naturally Curious, or Prudent, Enthusiastic, or Kind. If, like me, you would like some kind of external measurement you can take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the University of Pennsylvania department of Psychology's Authentic Happiness website. The 240 questions took me about an hour.
Developed by two of the pioneers of positive psychology, Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, the Character Strengths and Virtues framework is like a table of elements for the human character. You can have a look at the table below to get a sense of the system.
Developing Your Character
The thing about character is that it's not a fixed state. We can develop our strengths through deliberate practice.
Inspired by Tiffany Shlain's Science of Character short film and resources, I have been focusing on a particular character strength every week for the past three months. Practices for this have included identifying the focus value for the week (for example, Integrity), and then keeping a daily journal about how well I’ve faired in practicing that value.
I have found this tremendously enlightening and inspiring. It’s something I’d like to continue, and to share with others. If you would like to join me, here’s the process.
Identify: Take the character strengths survey to identify your strengths
Commit: Pick one of your key strengths that you’d like to work on for a week.
Practice! Start every day for the coming 7 days with a reflection on the practice of your value. You can journal about it (like I do), meditate on it, draw it, photograph it, paint it - whatever works for you.
Share the love. If you enjoy and get value from this exercise, induct someone else into the #characterscience movement. You’re welcome to forward them this post:)
Oh, and here’s a bonus resource. I actually printed this out and had it laminated for easy reference 🤓
So, Twitter is full of inane babble, right? Well, perhaps not. It can also be a source of inspiration, insight and learning if you want it to be. Here's six things I think we can learn from using Twitter:
1. Perception is Contagious. The people you surround yourself with affect your experience and perspectives. Your experience on Twitter is largely determined by the people that you follow - if you follow boring, prejudiced or self-absorbed people on Twitter, you’re probably not going to have a very enjoyable experience of it. However, if you following curious, interesting and insightful people, you’re likely to be surprised and delighted regularly.
2. It’s not all about you. Being selfish and cagey is a sure way to be ignored. The more interested you are in others, the more interested they’re likely to be in you. The most popular people on Twitter engage and respond to others, share the ideas of others, acknowledge others, and add value with their own ideas too.
3. Sharing is joyful. There’s a certain delight that comes from sharing an idea that you care about publicly. This is compounded for every person that acknowledges your idea and passes it along (in the form of “Retweets” usually). In the same vein, it’s amazing how willing people are to help out with ideas or resources in response to questions you might pose on Twitter (of course, in this case you’d probably need to have some active followers for this to work).
4. Everyone has a story. One of the most remarkable things about Twitter is the abundance of experiences and perspectives that people have. Just browsing what people are writing about at any given time, or around any given topic is often humbling and enlightening. For example, I loved sharing the experience of fans around South Africa of the World Cup opening ceremony and game - people in the stadium, at fanparks, at home alone (dancing!), or with family and friends.
5. A little humour goes a long way. An informal survey I conducted on Twitter revealed that the most popular tweets for South Africans are humorous one-liners. In response to even the most tense debate, helping people laugh is sure to win you friends and followers.
6. Mean what you say. Insincere expression of feelings - whether good or bad can come back in surprising ways. People have lost jobs, business contracts, friends and followers from saying things they didn’t mean on Twitter. I think this stems from a sense that complaining is a good way to build sympathy - it works if you’ve had a real experience but can really backfire if you’re making it up. Just because you’re saying it online, it doesn’t mean there aren’t real people or real consequences on the receiving end. On the other hand, flat praise or outright lies tend to be exposed online, and people tend not to follow those who they don’t trust.
Lastly, I'd say that ultimately Twitter is pretty meaningless if you're only using it to accumulate followers. The real value of it is in the relationships you develop and the ways in which you can get to know people, share experiences and resolve problems.
While there are many rational reasons for people to choose to buy a particular product or service, it's often our emotions and personal biases that drive us.
Below is a list of some of the more commonly debated cognitive biases that can affect people's decisions (From "Decision-Making" on Wikipedia):
- Selective search for evidence (a.k.a. Confirmation bias in psychology) (Scott Plous, 1993) - We tend to be willing to gather facts that support certain conclusions but disregard other facts that support different conclusions
- Premature termination of search for evidence - We tend to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work.
- Inertia - Unwillingness to change thought patterns that we have used in the past in the face of new circumstances.
- Selective perception - We actively screen-out information that we do not think is important.
- Wishful thinking or optimism bias - We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking.
- Choice-supportive bias - occurs when we distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem relatively more attractive.
- Recency - We tend to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information. (See semantic priming.) The opposite effect in the first set of data or other information is termed Primacy effect (Plous, 1993).
- Repetition bias - A willingness to believe what we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different of sources.
- Anchoring and adjustment - Decisions are unduly influenced by initial information that shapes our view of subsequent information.
- Group think - Peer pressure to conform to the opinions held by the group.
- Source credibility bias - We reject something if we have a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs: We are inclined to accept a statement by someone we like. (See prejudice.)
- Incremental decision making and escalating commitment - We look at a decision as a small step in a process and this tends to perpetuate a series of similar decisions. This can be contrasted with zero-based decision making. (See slippery slope.)
- Role fulfillment (Self Fulfilling Prophecy) - We conform to the decision making expectations that others have of someone in our position.
- Underestimating uncertainty and the illusion of control - We tend to underestimate future uncertainty because we tend to believe we have more control over events than we really do. We believe we have control to minimize potential problems in our decisions.
Reading these, I realise the truth in what Bertrand Russel said: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd”. Decisions and beliefs are hackable.
In short, it comes down to a sense of frustration I'm having with the amount of information I seem to have to deal with before anything actually gets done. As an example, besides spam, I get around 80 emails a day, all of which seem to require an urgent response. This is not good for someone who spends most of his time out the office working with groups. It basically means that most of my time in the office is split between dealing with email, and reading news so I can stay in touch with industry trends and innovations. This leaves very little time to spend working with my colleagues (at Huddlemind, Creative Commons and Muti) on important stuff like strategy. All this information feels like it's paralysing me!
In fact, this sense has sat with me for a while, and it's the primary reason why I've been so drawn to the study and practice of "Attention Economics".
So, regarding my blog...
Someone Has Already Said It
Perhaps the main reason I haven't been posting is because, quite honestly, everything I can think of saying has already been said by someone else online. And its not often that I have felt I could say it better.
For those who are interested in what I recommend reading, or what I find interesting, I would like to introduce you to my Diigo links which you can see in the sidebar on the right. There are some superb finds there, and they're all sorted by topic/tag.
I feel so full up with other people's information that there's barely enough space for me to form my own insights and share them.
Experiences vs Information
Maya Angelou once said: "People will forget what you tell them, but will never forget how you make them feel".
For people, like me, who believe that our Attention is increasingly scarce and valuable today, there is a cost attached to each new piece of information that we consume. Information consumes Attention. Despite my knowledge and understanding of "Attention Economics", I've been spendthrift with my own Attention. Now I have a bit of a deficit to deal with - each waking moment is currently spent processing the information I've amassed, at the expense of the experiences and interactions I could be having.
Information, by the way, is inherent in everything. It's just that we have come to prioritize encoded information - in the form of writing, sounds, and video - over real-world, information - in the form of experiences.
Reading and Writing
When I first started blogging, I enjoyed the sense of personal discovery through public disclosure. However, at some point the blogging became more about building an audience than about sharing ideas.
I can say the same about live chat, email, and meetings. My initial experience of these filled me with delight in the process of sharing ideas. They all now seem more like an obligation than a priviledge.
So in my attempt to reclaim my own sense of daily delight in my work and online pursuits, I am cutting down on all these attention traps, drastically. In their place, I hope to clear some space to experience and to reflect more, and to allow my own insights to emerge.
As my esteemed friend, Joe Botha, has said: "The true breakfast of champions is a low information diet".
What we want is stuff that offers order in the midst of chaos, stuff that makes our lives simpler. Not more irrelevant features, just a few that help us do what we do better.
I'm inspired by what the guys at 37signals are doing with their software. They have reduced the number of options we have in their programmes, but they've made sure that what is there works well. Apple computers are the same.
I've had this experience with giving lectures and talks: It seems that the less ideas that I try to cram into one presentation, the more enthusiastic the response I get. The corollary to that was proved to me by the negative response I had last-week when I did a presentation jam-packed with ideas. I thought I was adding more value by fitting 5 big ideas into my 3hour presentation, but in-fact it reduced the effectiveness of the talk. The class were resentful that I made them confused. Not good. Far better to present just one idea, and make them feel smart for learning it.
One of the reasons that Google has done so well as a search engine is because of their bare-basic home-page. Its predecessors like Yahoo used to assault the senses with too many options on their search page, and some people felt confused. Google left no option other than to type in the search box, and so people felt smarter.
When it comes to your business, can you help customers make sense of your offer in the most simple possible terms? They won't buy what they don't understand. To quote Seth Godin:
If you canâ€™t state your position in eight words or less, you donâ€™t have a position.â€�
My parting thought on this subject: If you can make people's lives simpler, and if you can make people feel smarter by reducing complexity, then you've completed one of marketing's most important tasks.