The Hoggan Blog




Interview with Jim Hoggan: “Smashing Heads Doesn’t Open Minds”

Posted on: August 22, 2012

In this interview with the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network, Jim Hoggan echoes communications themes brought forward in his CEGN's May conference keynote address titled "Smashing Heads Doesn't Open Minds."

Editor: One of the key goals of CEGN's new strategic plan is to "Give public voice to our shared aspirations". This has been spurred by the recent spotlight on the environmental community and environmental funders and a realization that the messages coming from the community have often been fragmented and reactive. What is your advice on how best to reframe the current conversation around the environment?

Jim: I don't like to offer specific reframing advice without taking a closer look at the details, so please take my comments as broad brush observations. My sense is that Canadians think the federal government has overstepped with its rhetoric. The public isn't buying the demonization of environmental leaders. Public opinion research confirms that Canadians feel we need a balanced conversation about economy and the environment. They believe that environmental groups and funders help provide that balance. There is broad public support for fair minded and respectful conversations about how we develop resources in a way that is good for the future and not destructive for the planet.

But people need to know what we are talking about, what the vision is. We need to communicate with Canadians in a more holistic and personal way, less intellectual policy wonk stuff. People understand things emotionally first. Canadians need to feel how environmental issues like climate change will affect our families, neighbourhoods and lives. Environment is a core value for Canadians.

Canadians see the conflict between environment and the economy and they feel we should be looking after both.

The lesson environmental leaders can take away from this attack by the Oil and Gas Industry and the Harper Government is a basic lesson of public communication: If you don't tell them someone else will and it will be bad.

So I agree with your focus. The environmental community needs to create a more compelling vision and narrative. The sustainability/environmental narrative isn't clear to people. We need to do a better job of telling our own story. We need research that looks deeply into a new more compelling environmental narrative. The public story can't be all about fights between industry and ENGOs.

Editor: In your conference keynote – "Smashing Heads Doesn't Open Minds" – you spoke eloquently to the kind of communication that works and the kind that doesn't. Can you share some of your insights here, as well as touch on your own path for arriving at these insights?

Jim: There is so much industry misinformation and spin when talking about environmental issues. And although ENGO advocacy is important there is a downside to being too combative. Advocacy may put necessary pressure on industry and government but the downside of this is polarization.

This combination of industry misinformation and over the top ENGO advocacy is very destructive – leading to the ‘polluted public square' that we have today where the public discourse is very toxic. As a result, most Canadians have turned away and disengaged from public conversations about these issues.

Polarization can make the resolution of environmental issues less likely. We need to look for alternatives. Self-righteous campaigns have limits. Moral humility and looking for ways to find common ground are needed. This advice is echoed by many of the thought leaders, I have interviewed for my upcoming book, The Polluted Public Square. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist monk, urges us to "speak the truth, but not to punish". Dr. Karin Armstrong, a leading spiritual and religious historian, notes St. Paul's teaching that "charity takes no delight in the wrong doing of others".

Daniel Yankelovich, a US social scientist and public opinion analyst, notes that when people are operating in different realities with different facts and are so far apart that they are just talking past each other, communication isn't really taking place. As he says, "people need to be singing off the same song sheet." Otherwise, a public paralysis can result. That's what we have today. Environmental groups have helped turn the environment into a core Canadian value, but now the levels of disinterest, mistrust and polarization are so high that we can't move forward.

Editor: What would be your advice to funders as to how best to deploy philanthropic support to strengthen communication work by the environmental community?

Jim: Start with research into a new environmental narrative perhaps using a dialogue research method. Then use the research to build a powerful narrative that includes the idea of protecting the environment for people, rather than from people, and which speaks to the deeper values of who we are as Canadians and how we live our lives. The new narrative needs to be one of interconnectedness. The environment can't be seen as being separate and our narrative can't be a story just for environmentalists and academics.
We also need to build ENGO capacity to deliver articulate and effective stories that inspire people outside of the campaign work they do. People operate with a present bias and are most concerned about things that are close to them in time and space. They also place a high value on fairness for themselves and for others that are close to them. An effective communications approach needs to meet these and others challenges. The ENGO community knows these things but doesn't apply them.

Why we have failed to take collective action on environmental crises like climate change is one of the most critical questions of our time. And understanding how we overcome this collective paralysis is the most important environmental work we can do.
Be careful with what you might call the myth of apathy – take time to understand the real obstacles standing in the way of communication and connecting. Canadians do care about the environment.

Make sure facts are a part of the package but speak to people's emotions and values. Resist the temptation to sling mud at opponents. You may end up deepening their base of support and turning off the people you are trying to reach. Remember that you could be wrong.

We need to speak with moral humility instead of self righteousness. Develop powerful narratives that are consistent with what we know about human motivation. And most importantly, be authentic. Reflect on the deep personal motivations for the work that you do and use your own story to connect with the people you are trying to inspire.

Editor: Thanks very much Jim for this interview and for your fine presentation at CEGN's conference. With communications as a major focus for the network in the coming year, your insights are timely and much appreciated. 

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Save the Troy Library “Adventures In Reverse Psychology” [Video]

Posted on: July 20, 2012

The city of Troy, Michigan was facing a budget shortfall, and was considering closing the Troy Public Library for lack of funds. Even though the necessary revenues could be raised through a miniscule tax increase, powerful anti-tax groups in the area were organized against it. A vote was scheduled amongst the city's residents, to shut the library or accept the tax increase, and Leo Burnett Detroit decided to support the library by creating a reverse psychology campaign. Yard signs began appearing that read: "Vote to Close Troy Library on August 2nd – Book Burning Party on August 5th." No one wants to be a part of a town that burns books, and the outraged citizens of Troy pushed back against the "idiotic book burners" and ultimately supported the tax increase, thus ensuring the library's survival.

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Jim Hoggan Discusses Enbridge’s Communication Strategy

Posted on: July 15, 2012

Jim Hoggan shares his thoughts on Enbridge's communication strategy, oil and gas industry public realtions, the pipeline issue and the public's perception of the energy sector with CKNW radio show host Simi Sara.

Click to listen to the interview

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Hoggan’s Bookshelf: How does change happen?

Posted on: June 26, 2012

 

This third collection in a series curated from Hoggan's bookshelf is about social change – how it happens and what stands in the way.

The question at the heart of Jim's next book is why aren't we coming together to solve big hairy problems like climate change. These books helped illuminate what it is about people that makes them so resistant to change and what inspires us to overcome these barriers and reckon with reality. 

1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip & Dan Heath (2010)

"Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?

The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results: 

  • The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
  • The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
  • The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service

In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline."

2. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard Thaler & Cass Sustein (2008)

"Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take—from neither the left nor the right—on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative books to come along in many years."

3. Limits to Growth – Donella Meadows (2008)

In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth–the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet– Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.Meadows' newly released manuscript, Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute's Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.Some of the biggest problems facing the world–war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation–are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

4. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip & Dan Heath (2007)

"Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas–business people, teachers, politicians, journalists, and others–struggle to make their ideas “stick.”

Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

In this indispensable guide, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds–from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony–draw their power from the same six traits.

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick."

5. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming – Paul Hawken (2007)

"Blessed Unrest tells the story of a worldwide movement that is largely unseen by politicians or the media. Hawken, an environmentalist and author, has spent more than a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person causes, these organizations collectively comprise the largest movement on earth. This is a movement that has no name, leader, or location, but is in every city, town, and culture. It is organizing from the bottom up and is emerging as an extraordinary and creative expression of people’s needs worldwide.

Blessed Unrest explores the diversity of this movement, its brilliant ideas, innovative strategies, and centuries-old history. The culmination of Hawken’s many years of leadership in these fields, it will inspire, surprise, and delight anyone who is worried about the direction the modern world is headed. Blessed Unrest is a description of humanity’s collective genius and the unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another. Like Hawken’s previous books, Blessed Unrest will become a classic in its field— a touchstone for anyone concerned about our future."

6. The Power of Sustainable Thinking: How to Create a Positive Future for the Climate, the Planet, Your Organization & Your Life –  Bob Doppelt  (2008)

 

"The future will be powered by sustainable thinking in business, organizations, governments and everyday life. This revolutionary book tackles climate change, sustainability and life success by starting with your mind. It provides proven staged-based methods for transforming thinking and behaviour, beginning first with the reader's own cognitive patterns, then moving to how individuals can motivate other people to change, and finally to how teams and organizations can be motivated to change."

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Hoggan’s Bookshelf: Who are we and how have we evolved over time?

Posted on: June 19, 2012

 

This second post in a series of collections curated from Hoggan's bookshelf is from the fields of sociology and history.

As Jim explores in his forthcoming book, the biggest environmental and social justice problems are actually people problems. The hardest nuts to crack seem to be tragedy of the commons problems – collective challenges requiring collective solutions. Are we able to transcend our selfish selves for the greater good? These books shed light on the core of who we are as social beings, what we can learn from the history of societies and how we are evolving to live together better. 

1. The Social Conquest of Earth – E.O. Wilson (2012)

"Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere."

2. A Short History of Progress – Ronald Wright (2005)

"Each time history repeats itself, the cost goes up. The twentieth century—a time of unprecedented progress—has produced a tremendous strain on the very elements that comprise life itself: This raises the key question of the twenty-first century: How much longer can this go on? With wit and erudition, Ronald Wright lays out a-convincing case that history has always provided an answer, whether we care to notice or not. From Neanderthal man to the Sumerians to the Roman Empire, A Short History of Progress dissects the cyclical nature of humanity's development and demise, the 10,000-year old experiment that we've unleashed but have yet to control. It is Wright's contention that only by understanding and ultimately breaking from the patterns of progress and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age can we avoid the onset of a new Dark Age. Wright illustrates how various cultures throughout history have literally manufactured their own end by producing an overabundance of innovation and stripping bare the very elements that allowed them to initially advance. Wright's book is brilliant; a fascinating rumination on the hubris at the heart of human development and the pitfalls we still may have time to avoid."

3. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond (2005)

"In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates?

As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?"

4. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined – Steven Pinker (2011)

"Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society."

5. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Society Stronger – Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (2009)

"It is well established that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Now a groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, takes an important step past this idea. The Spirit Level shows that there is one common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Not wealth; not resources; not culture, climate, diet, or system of government. Furthermore, more-unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them—the well-off as well as the poor.

The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level reveals striking differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states. Almost every modern social problem—ill-health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness—is more likely to occur in a less-equal society. This is why America, by most measures the richest country on earth, has per capita shorter average lifespan, more cases of mental illness, more obesity, and more of its citizens in prison than any other developed nation.

Wilkinson and Pickett lay bare the contradiction between material success and social failure in today’s world, but they do not simply provide a diagnosis of our woes. They offer readers a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society. The Spirit Level is pioneering in its research, powerful in its revelations, and inspiring in its conclusion: Armed with this new understanding of why communities prosper, we have the tools to revitalize our politics and help all our fellow citizens, from the bottom of the ladder to the top."

6. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement – David Brooks (2011)

"With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life.

This is the story of how success happens. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica—how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred—we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind—not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.

Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the “odyssey years” that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world."

 

 

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Hoggan’s Bookshelf: Why do we believe what we believe and do what we do?

Posted on: June 12, 2012

Putting together your summer reading list? You are in luck!

By popular demand, here's the first in a series curated from Hoggan's bookshelf.

Jim's been scouring far and wide to pull together insights from the smartest people he can find for his next book. This first collection is books we've enjoyed on our hunt to better understand the psychology of human decision-making.

Over the last few decades, the fields of social psychology and behavioural economics have turned conventional ideas about how we think on their head. From bizarre cognitive biases to irrational decision making, these mind bending reads have profound implications for strategic communications and public affairs.

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman (2011)

"Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his seminal work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgment and decision making, is one of our most important thinkers. His ideas have had a profound and widely regarded impact on many fields—including economics, medicine, and politics—but until now, he has never brought together his many years of research and thinking in one book.

In the highly anticipated Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. Thinking, Fast and Slow will transform the way you think about thinking."

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves – Dan Ariely (2012)

"The New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality returns with thought-provoking work to challenge our preconceptions about dishonesty and urge us to take an honest look at ourselves.

  • Does the chance of getting caught affect how likely we are to cheat?
  • How do companies pave the way for dishonesty?
  • Does collaboration make us more honest or less so?
  • Does religion improve our honesty?

Most of us think of ourselves as honest, but, in fact, we all cheat. From Washington to Wall Street, the classroom to the workplace, unethical behavior is everywhere. None of us is immune, whether it's the white lie to head off trouble or padding our expense reports. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, award-winning, bestselling author Dan Ariely turns his unique insight and innovative research to the question of dishonesty.

Generally, we assume that cheating, like most other decisions, is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis. But Ariely argues, and then demonstrates, that it's actually the irrational forces that we don't take into account that often determine whether we behave ethically or not. For every Enron or political bribe, there are countless puffed rÉsumÉs, hidden commissions, and knockoff purses. In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely shows why some things are easier to lie about; how getting caught matters less than we think; and how business practices pave the way for unethical behavior, both intentionally and unintentionally. Ariely explores how unethical behavior works in the personal, professional, and political worlds, and how it affects all of us, even as we think of ourselves as having high moral standards.

But all is not lost. Ariely also identifies what keeps us honest, pointing the way for achieving higher ethics in our everyday lives. With compelling personal and academic findings, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty will change the way we see ourselves, our actions, and others."

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts – Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007)

"Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it."

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself – David McRaney

You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you're as deluded as the rest of us. But that's OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It's like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.

Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday, including:

  • Dunbar's Number – Humans evolved to live in bands of roughly 150 individuals, the brain cannot handle more than that number. If you have more than 150 Facebook friends, they are surely not all real friends.
  • Hindsight bias – When we learn something new, we reassure ourselves that we knew it all along.
  • Confirmation bias – Our brains resist new ideas, instead paying attention only to findings that reinforce our preconceived notions.
  • Brand loyalty – We reach for the same brand not because we trust its quality but because we want to reassure ourselves that we made a smart choice the last time we bought it.

Packed with interesting sidebars and quick guides on cognition and common fallacies, You Are Not So Smart is a fascinating synthesis of cutting-edge psychology research to turn our minds inside out.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink (2009)

"Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people–at work, at school, at home. It's wrong. As Daniel H. Pink explains in his new and paradigm-shattering book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today's world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink exposes the mismatch between what science knows and what business does–and how that affects every aspect of our lives. He demonstrates that while the old-fashioned carrot-and-stick approach worked successfully in the 20th century, it's precisely the wrong way to motivate people for today's challenges. In Drive, he reveals the three elements of true motivation:

  • Autonomy- the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery- the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose- the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Along the way, he takes us to companies that are enlisting new approaches to motivation and introduces us to the scientists and entrepreneurs who are pointing a bold way forward.

Drive is bursting with big ideas–the rare book that will change how you think and transform how you live."

The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – Chris Mooney (2012)

"Bestselling author Chris Mooney uses cutting-edge research to explain the psychology behind why today’s Republicans reject reality—it's just part of who they are.
From climate change to evolution, the rejection of mainstream science among Republicans is growing, as is the denial of expert consensus on the economy, American history, foreign policy and much more. Why won't Republicans accept things that most experts agree on? Why are they constantly fighting against the facts?

Science writer Chris Mooney explores brain scans, polls, and psychology experiments to explain why conservatives today believe more wrong things; appear more likely than Democrats to oppose new ideas and less likely to change their beliefs in the face of new facts; and sometimes respond to compelling evidence by doubling down on their current beliefs."

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation –  Ed Deci & Richard Flaste (1996)

If you reward your children for doing their homework, they will usually respond by getting it done. But is this the most effective method of motivation? No, says psychologist Edward L. Deci, who challenges traditional thinking and shows that this method actually works against performance. The best way to motivate people—at school, at work, or at home—is to support their sense of autonomy. Explaining the reasons why a task is important and then allowing as much personal freedom as possible in carrying out the task will stimulate interest and commitment, and is a much more effective approach than the standard system of reward and punishment. We are all inherently interested in the world, argues Deci, so why not nurture that interest in each other? Instead of asking, "How can I motivate people?" we should be asking, "How can I create the conditions within which people will motivate themselves?" 

 

Haidt on Culture War Rhetoric: Follow the Sacredness

Posted on: March 20, 2012

This New York Times op-ed from moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt brilliantly unpacks the political narratives embedded in recent rhetoric from both Democrats and Republicans. Haidt warns that demonizing opponents stirs up tribal reactions that can stand in the way of real solutions.

Haidt's new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is now available in stores.  

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Collective Insights from IDEO: Small’s Big Potential & Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility

Posted on: March 15, 2012

In a spirit of open collaboration, IDEO created their Patterns series to capture and share some of the common insights and exceptional success stories they see bubbling up across projects and out in the world. By tapping into collective intelligence, they have created a platform for "elevating insights to the level of cultural impact."

We've curated a couple of pieces that really got our creative juices flowing.

The first piece, Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility, takes a look at how CSR is evolving from 'bolt-on' to 'built-in' social responsibility by transforming businesses' relationships with the public.

The second, Small's Big Potential, offers some advice for the overwhelming task of tackling large-scale social challenges with limited resources. Their diagnosis? Embrace the tension and connect small to a bigger purpose to unlock huge potential.

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When Compromise is a Dirty Word: Haidt on our Culture of Contention

Posted on: March 7, 2012

"Our country is more politically polarized than ever. Is it possible to agree to disagree and still move on to solve our massive problems?  Or are the blind leading the blind — over the cliff?"

Last month, social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt sat down with Bill Moyer to talk about the psychological underpinnings of political polarization. Haidt deftly sketches out some fundamental differences between liberal and conservative mindsets, the problem with demonizing your adversaries and why it's wise to think twice before trumpeting our opinions.

In his Ted Talk, Haidt focuses on the moral roots of these partisan worldviews, outlining the different moral values of liberal and conservative ideologies. Haidt paints morality as a double-edged sword: it both binds us together and blinds us to our biases. "By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and open-minded toward those whose morals don't match ours, but who are equally good and moral people on their own terms."

Haidt's new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics & Religion, is out March 13th. 

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Denial of Facts Is No Way to Understand Science

Posted on: December 12, 2011

Originally published on Huffington Post on Dec 7, 2011

On Thursday Dec. 1, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente declared herself a defender of scientific integrity by calling upon the scientific community to replace the “rhetoric” of climate change with open, honest debate.

According to Wente, the impacts of climate change remain a future fantasy, unquantifiable by data collected through “insanely complicated” climate science. Her perspective is informed by the omission of facts, falsehoods, and fake experts. In a dance with smoke and mirrors she creates issues where none exist and ignores others that do.

There was a time when I couldn’t understand what motivated writers like Wente to stand so firmly against such clear and solid science. The psychology of “confirmation bias” has provided the answer for me. 

Like all of us, Wente has her biases, and most of us, like her, like to have those biases confirmed. So we seek out the information that confirms what we already believe and disregard that information that might prove us wrong.

As a columnist, Wente presents the information which confirms her ideological beliefs as truths and facts to the readers of the Globe and Mail. She excels as a columnist in part because she mocks and jeers her detractors. This pleases the people who agree with her but makes her loathed by those who don’t.  It provokes reaction on both sides and eliminates any possibility of civil conversation.

When it comes to climate change she suffers from an extreme case of motivated reasoning. She has to ignore the concerns and views of virtually all of the world’s scientific academies and rely on the views of oil industry-funded groups like the Fraser Institute as she scrounges for shreds of evidence to back up her contrary view of climate science.

In the fantastical future Wente claims climate scientists are inventing, “the seas will rise, the glaciers will melt, the hurricanes will blow, the forest fires will rage.”

But climate change and its consequences are not mere predictions. We live in a world that is already affected by rising global temperatures, with more frequent and more intense heat waves, more powerful hurricanes, increasing numbers of forest fires, floods and droughts. These changes are consistent with the climate data on which future predictions are built.

In November, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts and costs of rising global temperatures, with suggestions on mitigating the damage. The report points out that although it is difficult to attribute single extreme events to anthropogenic climate change, increased global temperatures do contribute to the extreme weather trends and those are already underway.

Wente admits to her lack of scientific credentials, but immediately attacks the world’s leading climate scientists. Their own lack of certainty about the earth’s changing climate and its causes, she implies, is clearly demonstrated by the “so-called Climategate affair.”  

The private emails between the world’s top scientists were stolen, misquoted and published as a massive accusation that the science behind climate change has been fabricated.

Wente mentions that Climategate has been "widely dismissed," yet goes on to re-state the initial false claims made through the "affair." In this, she confirms research on “confirmation bias” that proves people who read false information continue to believe it even after it has been corrected, especially if the misinformation confirms their ideological perspectives.  

Whether she is aware of it or not, Ms. Wente has become part of an “echo chamber” of misinformation created through Climategate. Following the original theft of the emails, right wing groups in the US including the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation – to name a few – made sure the scandal’s message (climate change science is a hoax) was repeated publicly as much as possible.

She avoids mentioning that nine independent inquiries exonerated the scientists and their work, proving the biggest scandal of 2009 to be a fake scandal. After all of this, Wente still thinks the lie is worth repeating.

Happily duped into repeating and publishing proven falsehoods, Wente has not helped her readers gain any better understanding of “the Climategate affair”. A proper explanation of Climategate would include the facts about who funded it.

Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles and David Koch have generously donated some $50 million of their company’s fortune to fund the same industry front groups and right wing think-tanks that bolstered Climategate. The Kochs' business activities range from the manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, as well as the production of chemicals, energy, fiber, minerals, fertilizers, pulp and paper. In 2009 alone, Koch Industries paid more than half a billion dollars in fines for environmental damages. 

Looking for back-up on her false assertions on Climategate, Wente refers to economics professorRoss McKitrick. He agrees with her that Climategate proves climate science is phony, and thinks the IPCC should change its process entirely.

Surely, she knows that McKitrick is a fellow at the Fraser Institute (given $175,000 by Koch foundations between 2005 and 2008) and is affiliated with numerous other industry-funded think tanks. He is an open skeptic of climate science, and a perfect validator for Wente’s entrenched beliefs – and he has no credentials in atmospheric science whatsoever.

recent study by Yale University law Professor Dan Kahan would suggest that Wente and McKitrick have a lot more in common than their view on climate change. Kahan surveyed more than 1,500 Americans and found that their cultural values had a far greater impact on their view of climate change than their level of scientific literacy. Most people who tended towards a view of the world that is hierarchical and individualistic were more skeptical of environmental risks including climate change than people whose outlook was communal and egalitarian. 

Margaret Wente is only human, and is as susceptible to her own biases as anyone else. As a journalist, however, she needs to be held accountable for her errors and omissions. While misinformed vitriol may provoke reactions, and may even sell newspapers, the Globe and Mail and other newspapers should be held accountable for the accuracy of the material they choose to publish.

If misinformation is the new journalistic standard, then people will only absorb more media that re-enforces their own opinions, and the possibility for consensus on any issue will be lost.

 

 

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