“The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin: Part Two

This book continues to impress me. The combination of research, techniques, and insights has been very useful in helping me make my own connections between different areas of my life. These areas extend from home and family life, to work and planning for the future.

  1. Bayesian updating: finding statistics that are relevant to your particular circumstance and using them. You improve your estimates of the probability by constraining the problem to a set of people who more closely resemble you along pertinent dimensions.
  2. Denominator Neglect: We imagine the numerator—the tragic story you saw on the news about a car crash—and don’t think about the denominator—the overwhelming number of automobile trips that end safely. Denominator neglect lead to a tendency to catastrophize, to imagine the worst possible scenario without placing it in the proper statistical perspective.
  3. Most of us are so sensitive to how a problem is presented—the way it is framed—that simple, even ridiculous manipulations can dramatically influence choices and preferences.
  4. Be the only person who has decision-making authority, and that person will have too many decisions to make. Due to the lack of hierarchy, extra effort is needed to establish who has responsibility for which tasks. Indeed, some form of vertical structure is essential to achieve coordination among employees and their projects, to avoid duplication of effort, and to ensure coherence across different components of a project. The additional advantage of vertical structure is that employees can more easily be held accountable for their decisions and their work product. Tall vertical systems usually encourage specialization and the efficiencies that come from it, but tall structures can also result in employees being isolated from one another and working in silos, unaware of what others are doing that might be closely related to their own work.
  5. Superiors trust subordinates and empower them to accomplish missions within their intent. Subordinates trust superiors to give them freedom to execute the commander’s intent and support their decisions. The trust between all levels depends upon candor…
  6. The superior has to conserve his time so that he can use it for making more important decisions. Secondly, subordinates are often in a better position to make decisions because the facts of the case may be directly available to them and not to the superior.
  7. By definition, the people who are coming to me are the real experts on the problem. They know lots more about it, and they are closer to it. All I can do is try to get them to look at the problem in a different light. I try to get them to look at the problems from a different light. I try to get them to see things from 5,000 feet up. I tell them to back up and find out one truth that they know is indisputable.
  8. Good behaviors are just as contagious as bad, and if we model correct behavior, others are likely to follow.
  9. A good leader might be best defined as anyone who inspires and influences people to accomplish goals and to pursue actions for the greater good of the organization. An effective leader motivates people to focus their thinking and efforts in ways that allow them to do their best and to produce work that pushes them to the highest levels of their abilities.
  10. An effective leader can quickly understand opposing views, how people came to hold them, and how to resolve conflicts in a way that are perceived to be mutually satisfying and beneficial.
  11. From the U.S. Army Mission Command Manual:
    1. Build cohesive teams through mutual trust.
    2. Create shared understanding.
    3. Provide a clear and concise set of expectations and goals.
    4. Allow workers at all levels to exercise disciplined initiative.
    5. Accept prudent risks.
  12. Creating shared understanding refers to company management communicating with subordinates at all levels the corporate vision, goals, and the purpose and significance of any special initiative and projects that must be undertaken by employees. This helps to empower employees to use their discretion because they share in a situational understanding of the overriding purpose of their actions.
  13. If we can predict some (but not all) aspects of how a job will go, we find it rewarding. If we can predict all aspects of the job, down to the tiniest minutiae, it tends to be boring because there is nothing new and no opportunity to apply the discretion and judgment that management consultants and the U.S. Army have justly identified as components to finding one’s work meaningful and satisfying.
  14. Mangers should be alert to the differences in motivational styles, and take care to provide individuals who have an internal locus of control with autonomous jobs, and individuals who have an external locus of control with more constrained jobs.
  15. By attributing shallow motives to employees, bosses overlook the actual depth of their minds and then fail to offer their workers those things that truly motivate them.
  16. You’d think people would realize they’re bad at multi-tasking and would quit. But a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by a dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, in which multi-taskers think they are doing great. Part of the problem is that workplaces are misguidedly encouraging workers to multitask.
  17. The companies that are winning the productivity battle are those that allow their employees productivity hours, naps, a chance for exercise, and a calm, tranquil, orderly environment in which to do their work.
  18. Separate research by Kahneman and Tversky shows that people are unable to ignore information that is not relevant to them, so there is a real neural cost of being presented with information you don’t care about and can’t use.
  19. The so-called telephone band transmitted only 300 to 3300 Hz, a subset of the full range of human hearing which spans 20 to 20,000 Hz, and gave telephone transmissions their characteristic “tinny” sound.
  20. A string is random if there is no way to describe it or represent it in an abbreviated form.
  21. Interviewing employees at a company to better understand their skills, the kinds of problems they were working on, and their job descriptions. After they reported their recommendations, the incentive structure and corporate vision statement were re-worked to include cross-divisional teamwork.
  22. In general, a business that is highly structured is more resilient under stress. If a manager leaves her job, smooth, continuous operation of the company is achieved if the replacement can step into a well-defined job with clear reporting structure and fewer ad hoc arrangements.
  23. Planning for failure, a strategy session in which you try to figure out anything that could possibly go wrong and how it would go wrong, and then put systems in place to either prevent it or recover from it.
  24. What’s usually missing in these reports is a control condition, that is, what would have happened without intervention? This is especially important if we want to draw conclusions about causality, that the one event caused the other.
  25. Correlation is not causation. Proving causation requires carefully controlled scientific experiments.
  26. It can be all too tempting to infer causation from correlational data, especially when controlled experiments can’t be done. When we can imagine a plausible, underlying mechanism the temptation is even greater.
  27. Performing a quick check on the plausibility of numerical information is one of the easiest and most important parts of critical thinking. “A little bit of inaccuracy saves a great deal of explanation.”
  28. Approximating involves making a series of educated guesses systematically by partitioning the problem into manageable chunks, identifying assumptions, and then using your general knowledge of the world to fill in the blanks.
  29. In a world of rapidly increasing knowledge, unimaginable amounts of data, and rapid technological advance, the architects of the new technologies are going to need to know how to solve unsolvable problems, how to break them up into smaller parts.
  30. There are no right answers, just opportunities to exercise ingenuity, to find new connections, and to allow whimsy and experimentation to become a normal and habitual part of our thinking, which will lead to better problem solving.
  31. It is important to teach our children to become lifelong learners, curious and inquisitive. Equally important is to instill in children a sense of play, that thinking isn’t just serious, it can be fun. This entails giving them the freedom to make mistakes, to explore new thoughts and ideas outside of the ordinary—divergent thinking will be increasingly necessary to solve some of the biggest problems facing the world today.
  32. To know something entails two things: for there to be no doubt, and for it to be true.
  33. ‘Knowing’ is the absence of alternatives of other beliefs. This is why education and exposure to many different ideas are so important. In the presence of alternatives of other beliefs, we can make an informed and evidence-based choice about what is true.
  34. Reading literary fiction, but not pulp fiction of nonfiction, increased the reader’s empathy and emotional understanding of other people.
  35. As the old saying goes, “A man with one watch always knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.” We are now less sure of what we know and don’t know.
  36. We encode new information, only if we pay attention to it, and we aren’t always paying attention at the moment we’re introduced to someone.
  37. Western culture overvalues the central executive mode, and undervalues the daydreaming mode. The central executive approach to problem solving is often diagnostic, analytic, and impatient, whereas the daydreaming approach is playful, intuitive, and relaxed.
  38. All is available—every version, every outtake, every subtle variation—the problem of acquisition becomes irrelevant, but the problem of selection becomes impossible.
  39. “I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge… All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration… At times I feel certain I am right while now knowing the reason.” Einstein.
  40. Einstein also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
  41. It’s usually obvious when you’re talking to someone a level above you, because they see lots of things instantly when those things take considerable work for you to figure out. These are good people to learn from, because they remember what it’s like to struggle in the place where you’re struggling, but the things they do still make sense from your perspective.
  42. It’s the human condition to fall prey to old habits. We must consciously look at areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and then methodically and proactively do so. And then keep doing it.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload


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