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The power of lonely: What we do better without other people around

Spending time alone, if done right, can be good for you. Certain tasks and thought processes are best carried out without anyone else around.

One ongoing Harvard study indicates that people form more lasting and accurate memories if they believe they’re experiencing something alone.

We also happen to think more critically when we’re alone.

“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”

Perhaps this explains why seeing a movie alone feels so radically different than seeing it with friends: Sitting there in the theater with nobody next to you, you’re not wondering what anyone else thinks of it; you’re not anticipating the discussion that you’ll be having about it on the way home. All your mental energy can be directed at what’s happening on the screen. According to Greg Feist, an associate professor of psychology at the San Jose State University who has written about the connection between creativity and solitude, some version of that principle may also be at work when we simply let our minds wander: When we let our focus shift away from the people and things around us, we are better able to engage in what’s called meta-cognition, or the process of thinking critically and reflectively about our own thoughts.

Other psychologists have looked at what happens when other people’s minds don’t just take up our bandwidth, but actually influence our judgment. It’s well known that we’re prone to absorb or mimic the opinions and body language of others in all sorts of situations, including those that might seem the most intensely individual, such as who we’re attracted to. While psychologists don’t necessarily think of that sort of influence as “clouding” one’s judgment — most would say it’s a mechanism for learning, allowing us to benefit from information other people have access to that we don’t — it’s easy to see how being surrounded by other people could hamper a person’s efforts to figure out what he or she really thinks of something.


Source

The Art and Science of Asking Better Questions

At the recommendation of Warren Buffett’s Biographer, Alice Schroeder, I’ve been reading The Craft of Interviewing.

Schroeder seems pretty crafty at knowing when, what, and how to ask.

I want to ask better questions. I want to learn to suppress my ego and stop thinking about what I want to say when the other person is talking.

I’ve never been taught how to ask questions, which makes me wonder if I’m getting the most out of the questions I do ask.

If you think about it, asking better questions is really just a clever way to steal from the rich and give to the poor. In this case I’m stealing knowledge.

I have a lot of smart friends — by smart, I mean incredibly smart, not just plain smart — and I want to maximize the knowledge I gain from this privilege when we’re together

Here are some of the things I dog-eared while reading this book that you might be interested in:

  • The interview, generally, may take two shapes: one, like a funnel, and the other like an inverted funnel. The funnel-shaped interview opens with generalities – “What are the benefits of nuclear warfare, Mr. President?” – then pins down the generalizations – “When and were has it produced those spectacular sunsets that you mention?” The funnel allows the subject some say in the direction of the interview.
  • Sherlock Holmes would have been fond of the inverted-funnel; it opens with hard, fast, specific questions, then ascends to a more general ground. Used appropriately this form can help put people at ease. Another way to put people at ease is to start with the easy questions. (Learn to think more like Holmes.)
  • Don’t ever make someone feel as if he can’t get his point across, no matter how hard he tries.
  • Far too many people ask questions that try to put the spotlight on themselves rather than the person with the information.
  • Avoid two-part, hypothetical, and leading questions.
  • People won’t confess their inner thoughts unless they have proof the person asking those questions is sympathetic.
  • Mike Wallace says “The single most interesting thing you can do in television, I find, is to ask a good question and then let the answer hang there for two or three seconds or four seconds as though you’re expecting more.”
  • Envelope tough questions with “people are saying” because that helps avoid the person responding from thinking the questioner is attacking them. (Blame someone else for the question.) Another technique for this is to imply the question is a playful one, “I’d like to play the devil’s advocate for a moment.” You can also preface the question with praise.

If anyone knows of other books on asking better questions shoot me an email.

Buy The Craft of Interviewing.

Evidence-based tips for Valentine’s

Need to woo a partner in time for Valentine’s? Follow these simple, evidence-based instructions for boosting your irresistibility.

When asking a lady for a dance or for her number, your chances will be improved by lightly touching her on the arm. Try not to do it in a creepy way.

Use mimicry, bodily and verbal. Use mimicry, bodily and verbal (see what I did there?)

If you’re male, try to make yourself look taller and vice versa for women.

Hire a sports car, if you’re a man, but don’t bother if you’re a woman. Both sexes should avoid Toyotas – that’s a joke, please don’t sue, they’re lovely cars. 

When flirting with a man, use direct, no-nonsense chat up lines rather than the subtle or witty approach. Men are very easily confused.

When wooing a woman, use chat-up lines that demonstrate your helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, ‘culture’ and wealth. Don’t bother with jokes, empty compliments and sexual references. This ought to do it – ‘Hey gorgeous, sorry I’m late: the opera over-ran, then I had to race to my neighbour’s to help carry her piano upstairs – the one I bought her as a moving-in present’.

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If all else fails, impress them by telling them you read Farnam Street.

Scientifically Proven Ways to Increase Tips in the Service Industry

Tipping is a $40 billion dollar industry in the United States. Yet from the traditional economic perspective, which sees us as rational agents operating in our own interest, tipping waiters, barbers, taxi drivers and other service workers is crazy.

Many food servers depend on tips to make their living. Understanding the variables that affect tipping behavior can make a huge difference on income. Of course, a lot of the variables that influence tipping behavior are outside the servers’s control. For example, customers tend to leave larger tips when the weather is pleasant, when there is desirable background music, and when the restaurant is elegant or in an urban area. Food quality has a large impact. Research also suggests that tipping behavior is affected by customers’ characteristics, including size of the dining party, amount of alcohol consumed, customers’ gender and ethnic background, and method of payment.

However, research also indicates that servers can control some variables that influence tipping behavior.

If you’re a food server try—and if you’re a customer watch out for—the following:

Have your restaurant prime the customer with examples of what a tip would be at 20%
This study examined the role of gratuity guidelines on tipping behavior in restaurants. When diners were finished with their meals, they were given checks that either did or did not include calculated examples informing them what various percentages of their bill would amount to. Results indicated that parties who received the gratuity examples left significantly higher tips than did those receiving no examples. These results and their implications are discussed.

Introduce yourself by name
…wait staff who introduced themselves by name received an average tip of $5.44, or 23 percent of the total bill, and those who used no name were tipped on average about $3.49, or 15 percent of the total bill.

Squat when you first get to the table
Walters should squat down next to the table upon their first trip to the station, Lynn recommended, based on his study at an unnamed casual Mexican restaurant in Houston. Those who squatted received an average tip that was 20 percent higher — $6.40 as compared with $5.18 — than those who stood on their initial visit to the station.

Smile
Servers should give their customers a large smile — with mouth open and teeth showing — while they work.

Approach The Table Often
Walt staff should visit their tables more often, Lynn suggested as another technique, based on a study conducted in the 1970s at a Chicago steak house. Those who approached their tables — just to check up on the customers and not to deliver anything — two times or more received average tips that were 15.6 percent of the total bill, while those who approached the table only to deliver something or take something away received tips that were on average 13.8 percent of the total bill.

Touch your customers
He recommend they touch them lightly on their shoulders when delivering the bill or when returning with change or a credit card. His study for the technique was conducted at a Bennigan’s in Houston. Those who touched their customers for an average of two to four seconds received an average tip of 18 percent, or $3.20, of the total bill, and those who didn’t received a 12-percent average tip, or $2.52.

Give your customers something extra, like a mint
Another controversial technique Lynn recommended is for wait staff to give their customers after-dinner mints, based on his study at a Philadelphia restaurant. Servers who left their customers mints received tips that were on average about 28 percent, or $5.98, of the total bill, and those who left no mints received average tips of 19 percent, or $4.64, of the total bill.

“The technique didn’t work at steak houses with a [per-person] check average over $30,” Lynn said. He added that leaving mints for customers at upscale restaurants seems to have no impact on tips. “But at casual restaurants, it does increase tips,” he insisted. “It works because customers got something free, so they want to repay their servers.”

Compliment your customers
The present study examined the role of ingratiation on tipping behavior in restau- rants. In the study, 2 female food servers waited on 94 couples eating dinner, and either complimented or did not compliment the couples on their dinner selections. Results indicated that food servers received significantly higher tips when complimenting their customers than when not complimenting them. These results and their implications are discussed.

Other ideas? Write “thank-you” or simply draw a smily-face on the bill (to create a likeable impression); Print a picture of someone smiling on the bill, or the American Flag (something most people would associate with happiness); Make paying by Visa the default; If you’re a guy give the bill to the woman and if you’re a woman give the bill a guy; and Tell customers the weather is supposed to be nice tomorrow (take away a subconscious worry).

If you’re interested in learning more about gratuity’s try reading Keep the Change: A Clueless Tipper’s Quest to Become the Guru of the Gratuity. The best book out there on working in a restaurant is Kitchen Confidential.

Sources
– Ingratiation and Gratuity: The Effect of Complimenting Customers on Tipping Behavior in Restaurants
– Tip gratuity scale in server’s favor with simple techniques
– http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/3/0/7/3/0/p307300_index.html

Are intelligence and rationality different?

How can someone so smart be so stupid? We’ve all asked this question after watching a perfectly intelligent friend or relative pull a boneheaded move. 

“There is a narrow set of cognitive skills that we track and that we call intelligence. But that’s not the same as intelligent behaviour in the real world,” Stanovich says. He’s even coined a term to describe the failure to act rationally despite adequate intelligence: “dysrationalia.” How we define and measure intelligence has been controversial since at least 1904, when Charles Spearman proposed that a “general intelligence factor” underlies all cognitive function. Others argue that intelligence is made up of many different cognitive abilities. Some want to broaden the definition of intelligence to include emotional and social intelligence.

Time for a pop quiz. Try to solve this problem before reading on. Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

Yes No Cannot be determined

More than 80 per cent of people answer this question incorrectly. If you concluded that the answer is cannot be determined, you’re one of them. (So was I.) The correct answer is, yes, a married person is looking at an unmarried person.

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Stanovich’s book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, proposes a whole range of cognitive abilities and dispositions independent of intelligence that have at least as much to do with whether we think and behave rationally.

The natural progression of how good ideas go wrong

Leave it to Warren Buffet to offer a thoughtful perspective. In a memorable, hour-long PBS interview with Charlie Rose during the 2008 crisis, Buffet gave a master class in how the world got into its economic mess and what we can learn from it.

At one point, Rose asked the question that scholars, pundits, and plaintiffs attorneys will be debating for years: “Should wise people have known better?” Of course they should have, Buffet replied, but there’s a “natural progression” to how good new ideas go badly wrong. He called this progression the “three Is.” First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t and champion new ideas that create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea, often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the very innovations they are trying to exploit.

The problem, in other words, isn’t with innovation itself — it’s with the imitation and idiocy that follow. “People don’t get smarter about things as basic as greed,” Warren Buffett warned Charlie Rose. He’s right. But there’s no reason we can’t be reasonably intelligent about what we learn from the idiocy of the last few years and how we move beyond it.

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The best advice I’ve ever been given is to read all of the shareholder letters from Warren Buffett. I can assure you that these letters really do contain more wisdom then a full two-year MBA program. Book nuts will appreciate one of the best books written on Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist