Reason Archive

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Three Key Emotional Triggers

Manifestation of NeedsThe first key emotional trigger I will explore from the aspects of behavior, thought and emotion is security. More formally it’s long-term security. So, the question is this: If security is important to someone how will it manifest itself in behavior, thought and emotion? Again, in an attempt to simplify, I express these manifestations as the keywords of strength, knowledge and spirit respectively.

When security is important to us, our behavior will orient around strengthening whether it’s our things, our ideas, others or ourselves. For instance, taking aggressive action to rectify a situation reflects making something strong that is weak. Giving people comfort and aid, helping them to feel “safe and secure” reflects the same underlying security need, in this case as a solution to their problem.

In our thoughts, security orients around knowledge. “Knowledge is power” is an example of this association. Enforcing legalities is the “force of law,” our ideas as to the regulation of our societies. In the same sense, logic allows us to know what will come next. Exclaiming, “If I had only known that . . . ” frequently reflects a security need.

When it comes to emotion, security reflects in our spirit, our essence. Faith, confidence, optimism and destiny are examples of emotional states conveying that essence. “You need to pull yourself up” and “We need to feel safe,” are just two emotional expressions of a security orientation.

Granted all of us, at some moments, will need and want security. Yet, how we interpret and rationalize these moments is personal. What we might interpret as a situation requiring reinforcement another might interpret as requiring something new or requiring some special skill. In the long run, over many moments, our behavior, thoughts and emotions will display their tendencies.

So, who do you know displays strong security needs?

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This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Intelligence vs Wisdom

As I had posted earlier, one cannot be wise without sensitivity to the human condition. This means wisdom has innate, emotional, intangible and synergistic attributes, making it more dependent on the person than intelligence is and thus more magical. We can see this if we dive into the various aspects of wisdom as seen in Figure 1 and order them hierarchically along these attributes.

Wisdom's Magical Hierarchy

Figure 1: Wisdom’s Magical Hierarchy

Information occupies the bottom. Even computers collect it. Above is knowledge, combining the information into themes, theories, categories and disciplines. Reason comes next, linking bodies of knowledge in ways that make them applicable. At some point, we apply these three to create experiences. However, what two people learn from the same experience will differ, thus giving experience innateness.

Part of what makes the same experience different is situational awareness. People are born with differing levels of awareness, allowing some to extract more from each drop of experience than others do. Above this is intuition. It provides direction so we can sift through all the other aspects more efficiently and effectively. Finally, creativity applies all of these (information, knowledge, reason, experience, awareness and intuition) to solve everyday problems. Since every event is unique, we will need creativity to apply what we’ve learned to our situation.

As we move up the hierarchy, we progress from those aspects of wisdom that are more learned to more innate, more logical to emotional, more tangible to intangible, and more additive to synergistic. For instance, two married individuals produce much more than just the sum of their personalities. This also applies in business to create a more innovative and creative environment.

It’s the innate, emotional, intangible and synergistic attributes of these seven aspects of wisdom that give it a magical, wizardry sense. It’s why we can quantify intelligence but not wisdom.


Related post: Intelligence vs. Wisdom: Primary Difference


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Personality & PoliticsPeople often believe that political views are a battle of ideas. In reality, they are more a battle of personality types. People also believe people are important. “I am a people person,” is a common self-descriptor. Daily though, we discount people without consciously realizing we do.

For instance, saying politics is a battle of ideas, we are saying ideas are more important than people are. A key aspect of humans is their personality. Discounting personality’s influence is discounting people. Our personalities’ dominance is why such things as education and facts don’t influence as much as other people and people’s own personalities do. Increasingly, research shows our personality and genes playing a huge role.

The work of John Jost (New York University), Brian Nosek (University of Virginia) and Samuel Gosling (University of Texas) highlights this influence. this interview of Jost, he shares how simple things like music and knickknacks can indicate political orientation.

The article, “Body Politic” (The Economist, October 6, 2012 edition), goes even further by highlighting the genetic work of Peter Hatemi (Pennsylvania State University) and Rose McDermott (Brown University):

In the matter of both political outlook and political participation, it is coming to be seen that genes matter quite a lot. . . . They are not the be-all and end-all. But, . . . they affect a person’s views of the world almost as much as his circumstances do, and far more than many social scientists have been willing, until recently, to admit.

We aren’t born as “blank slates.” Birth gives us innate qualities that influence our views beyond the reach of reason and logic. To discount people and their personalities in decision-making is. . . well . . . unreasonable and illogical.


Here are links to the entire series of videos in the discussion, “The Psychology of the Political Left & Right:

This is the link to Jost’s, Nosek’s and Gosling’s work on the nature of ideology: Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology


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OZA No 292 (Emotion & Intuition as Foundation for All Decisions)One of the more contrarian perspectives that has helped me appreciate people’s decisions is that emotions and its interpretive big sister, intuition, form their foundation. Even a logical decision comes about because of a person’s emotional preference for logic.

While this does not mean logic, reason and rationales are not involved; it does mean they take a secondary, dependent role similar to the way the frame of a house is dependent upon the foundation. In our decision-making, it means we select the rationale (frame) to fit our emotional preferences (foundation), which we more commonly experience as rationalizing.

Increasingly though, as technology and research methodologies advance, science supports this. For instance, the article, “Captain Kirk’s Revenge” (The Economist, December 23, 2006 edition), discusses a person who lost his emotional functions in his brain could not make decisions even though the rational portions were in tack. However, those who lost their rational functions could still do so if their emotional ones remained.

This is understandable when we consider people need motivation to make decisions and motivation is emotional. Rationales alone won’t motivate unless they stimulate our emotions. That is why the root word of emotions is “motion.” It’s active, whereas logic, reason and rationale are inert.

We further see the progress in this perspective with the research of Roderick Gilkey, Ricardo Caceda, and Clinton Kilts. In their article, “When Emotional Reasoning Trumps IQ” (Harvard Business Review, September 2010 edition), they found that the best strategic thinkers showed “significantly less neural activity in the prefrontal cortex [rational functional area of brain] than in the areas associated with ‘gut’ responses, empathy, and emotional intelligence.”

Since we are often experiencing these emotions on an unconscious level, we could feel completely rational. Consequently, all our decisions are emotional ones. We just might not believe it.


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This entry is part 11 of 15 in the series Creative Innovation

Business prizes quantification; yet, ironically, it restricts creativity and innovation in two ways:

  • Encouraging electrical activity in our brains which restricts idea generation
  • Compelling people to confine their ideas to the quantifiable ones

Evangelia G. Chrysikou’s article “Put Your Creative Brain to Work” (Scientific American Mind, July/August 2012 edition, pgs: 26-27) summarizes the body of research to date by saying “idea generation is associated with a state of lower cognitive control” and

. . . generating novel applications for objects also seems to benefit from less filtering of knowledge and experiences, which enables people to consider a greater variety of possible answers.

Essentially, high cognitive control of our brain emits different electrical waves (beta) than low cognitive control (alpha) does. In Heidi K. Gardner’s article, “Coming Through When It Matters Most” (Harvard Business Review, April 2012 edition), we find quantification correlates to people’s need for certainty and conservatism by writing:

In high pressure situations . . . [people] support their responses with hard, usually quantitative, evidence instead of anecdotes and comparisons . . . Enthusiasm for innovation and improvisation gives way to concern for strict professionalism and covering all the basis.

My previous post, “Knowledge States”, helps us see the restrictive nature of quantification by the amount of knowledge we filter from the problem when we do so. This is partially why altering our normal problem-solving process (i.e. don’t worry about quantifying the problem or aspects of it) can be such an effective problem-solving technique.

Thus, the focus on numbers not only alters us physiologically in terms of the electrical waves our brains emit but also mentally in terms of compelling us to filter out unquantifiable knowledge that might contain the solution. Let’s face reality: problems are like squirrels. Neither goes away simply because we cannot quantify them.


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Seeking Whales

Allison Bond’s article, “Haunting Scenes” (Scientific American Mind, November/December 2011 edition), discusses the research of Phillip Isola (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as to what makes a memorable photograph. While Isola generalizes it as “’related to strangeness, funniness or interestingness,’” specifics exist:

  • People – unknown people work too
  • Movement – the implication of it such as people running, waves crashing, birds flying
  • Human-scale objects – chairs, cars, tools, toys

Photographs with these elements tend to be far more memorable rather than those with beautiful landscapes and environs. In short, we are not likely to remember pictures simply because they are beautiful. Moreover, these findings are consistent with evolutionary theory that:

. . . our brain is wired to notice movement, other people and objects we can interact with . . . because these things would have been the most important features of the landscape we evolved in.

Just as important is that these properties are “largely constant from one person to the next.” This means a memorable photograph isn’t as subjective as we once thought. The general parameters of memorableness are coded in us. Said another way, we do not consciously, completely control our preferences. They are to an extent predictable regardless of who we are.

Thus, in our decision making and problem solving we are living to a degree under the illusion of freely deciding. In reality, unconscious forces are influencing our thoughts, and what seem legitimate reasons for decisions are nothing more than rationalizations of wants. In short, rationalizations are masquerading as reasons.

Of course, we aren’t totally at the mercy of these influences as long as we make ourselves aware of them and believe they influence us. However, many times, while we acknowledge these forces, we often believe they influence everyone else but us.


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Someone once said to me that you can’t find your way if you don’t know where you are. I countered that that would mean a compass would be useless to you. That’s not true.

Unfortunately, when people talk about intuition in problem solving, then tend to think it should be as specific as cognition is. If it were, it wouldn’t be intuition. Intuition plays more of an introductory role in our thinking and behavioral processes. In this sense, our intuition acts as a compass. When we’re lost we have any number of directions to explore. A compass helps to narrow our selection. Intuition does the same in problem solving.

Many, many forces influence us without our conscious knowledge. On the knowledge map, we might feel these influences as awareness or knowing without having any proof or quantification to support them. These forces also influence our thought processes and encourage us to find rationales to support them.

Typically, we will experience these as feelings or sensations to:

  • Talk to a certain person or people
  • Analyze certain information
  • Visit a certain department, office or facility
  • Attend an certain event
  • Perform a certain analysis or experiment
  • Collect certain information

Now, I’m not referring to the normal, routine feelings that come about as a result of a planned problem-solving approach or one that conforms to a certain methodology. These feelings will encourage you to deviate from that process or plan. Since processes reduce flexibility, it’s important that we don’t become so focused that we ignore the opportunities posed by our intuition. Spontaneity and flexibility are important problem-solving attributes even if it simply means a “chance” encounter that aides us.

Next time you get that feeling to go off-process or off-plan, do it. Experiment!


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This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Education Bias

Problems With Asking, "Do You Understand?"An education bias overlooks the profound impact of feelings, emotions and intuition on thinking in choice. Leadership is the most poignant example. Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, managing directors at Corporate Executive Board, state in their article, “To Keep Your Customers, Keep It Simple” (Harvard Business Review, May 2012 edition):

. . . the [leader] cuts through the seemingly infinite options and provides decision-making criteria.

This occurs many times because the information by which we educate ourselves becomes so overwhelming as to render us powerless to think and act. From this perspective, leaders serve a function, even if it’s simply influential teenage girls suggesting to their peers what to wear and do by reporting their activities on various social media sites.

However, seen from a darker perspective, we not only see leadership’s dark side but also the impotency of facts and education in the face of eloquent leaders. In effect, knowledge is not power for it’s how we process that knowledge that is the real power. When it comes to that process, it’s not facts but the leader which has more power over it.

Thus, when we ask people, “Do they understand?” it’s irrelevant if the leaders people like support something else. This is where the two aspects of interpersonal relationships come into play: the knowledge from education (red) is subservient to the passion of the leader (blue). In other words, people may understand but their agreement, volition and heart rest with the leader.

Therefore, an education bias puts too much faith – and that’s what it really is, faith – in facts, knowledge, logic, reason and science to win the day. There are stronger emotional powers at work, especially those originating from leaders. That is why influencing is more a function of cultures and relationships than of data, information, strategies and vision.



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This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Emotional Self-defense for Sensitive People

A reader emailed me asking:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of sensitivity in decision making, especially in buying and selling?

All the advantages and disadvantages stem from sensitive people (SP) tending to be more in tune with the emotions of others and their own. In buying/selling decisions, another fact appears: people respond differently to sensitive people, so in these decisions the advantages and disadvantages of sensitivity will also depend upon the other people in the transaction.

Assuming a SP and a less sensitive person (LSP) have the same knowledge of a decision, the former will tend to have more inputs regarding the decision; his sensitivities will allow him to assess better how others might receive the decision. The opposing disadvantage is that he is more likely to consider the feelings of others, especially if his decision might hurt them. Thus, he will likely need to muster more courage than LSP’s.

In buying/selling decisions, emotional factors are more likely to influence SP’s than LSP’s. This might encourage them to pay more or sell for less (disadvantage), but they are also more likely to enjoy their decisions (positive).

For example, SP’s are more likely to sell a car for less to a friend, but they are more likely to feel good about helping a friend. Of course, if their friend is a LSP, he might not appreciate what the SP did; and thus, the SP is likely to feel his friend took advantage of him. This is how the people in buy/sell transactions influence the advantages and disadvantages of sensitivities.

Finally, SP’s are likely to have too many options because they are considering more emotional aspects than LSP’s do. Therefore, they are more likely to struggle finding the best decision when they should focus on just making a good decision.


Other links in this series:


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Imagine soil so toxic that nothing will grow. No matter how good our seeds, our farming techniques and the weather are; nothing will grow. The same thing happens when we try to promote great ideas in a bad relational environment: they fail.

That’s why relationships are more important than vision, culture more important than strategy. Vision and strategy can’t grow in toxic relational and cultural soil. This analogy also frames leadership as an affect influencing the hearts and minds of members, requiring the ability to tap both aspects of an interpersonal relationship: emotional and rational.

While this analogy’s point seems obvious, we are biased toward reason; thus, when problems arise, we tend to believe presenting new ideas, educating on the facts or reasoning better will solve them. It’s not unusual for me to have to restate this analogy several times in order to get people to focus on plans containing tactics to improve relationships or to manage conflict. In other words, our tendency is to just find better seeds, use better farming techniques or hope for better weather rather than address the soil.

This happens because no matter how good our ideas are, people will tend to decide that they’re bad if they don’t like or trust us. Our facts won’t change things either because people tend to believe perceptions over facts. People will naturally find reasons to discount our logic and facts.

When we combine all of this with the fact that a diverse workforce improves business, there is great stress on traditional management styles typically unsuited to nurturing the right positive feelings that can dramatically improve performance. By framing problems with this analogy, I increase my success in introducing relational solutions, which are often seen as too “fuzzy” or “soft.” Perhaps it will help you too.


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This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Relationship Building Technique

We often don’t learn the value of listening techniques in building relationships. Consequently, people might not realize we are listening; this needs to occur in relationship building.

Summarization rephrases the information or key points of the person in a condensed version. The technique verifies what we heard, demonstrates listening, allows focusing of the conversation, and defines parameters for additional discussions.  It also allows the other person – once we summarize – to alter, modify or restate so we can correct misunderstandings early.

Typically, summarization will rephrase the point of a sentence, paragraph or entire discussion. The focus is on subject matter not feelings and emotions, such as:

  • Information
  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Opinions
  • Logic
  • Instructions

Of all the relationship-building techniques, it will tend to be the most lengthy and involved; however, if too long, its effectiveness diminishes. Often it’s followed by a closed question such as, “Did I understand you correctly?”

Some examples of summarization include:

  • “Just to make sure I heard you right, Jack, you’d like us to find a way to secure a steady supply of our old product from this vendor, to negotiate a price based upon our minimum usage, and to find someone else to produce our new product.”
  • “To make sure I’m on the same page, let me summarize what I heard. You want to send Sue and Tom out west and to promote Sally to run the plant. Also, you want to find a recruiter to help us to fill Sally’s job and to find us a good service person to manage our top customer.”
  • “It seems that what you’re saying is that you want us to start over.”

From a relational perspective, summarization conveys the feeling that you are:

  • Understanding and valuing what the person is saying
  • Paying attention to detail and quality
  • Someone in whom the person can have confidence

The effect of summarization is to create:

  • A common understanding of what was said
  • Opportunities for correcting any misunderstandings upfront
  • Confidence in your abilities in the eyes of the other person
  • Confirmation that you know what was said or needs to be done

Summarization, is really a result of the other relationship techniques. It’s used less frequently, but when it is it covers a lot of ground – often the entire conversation.  Summarization heads off many problems before they damage relationships. It has helped me much in my career.


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People often have unrealistic expectations for intuition, sometimes thinking it’s a crystal ball, magic lamp or answer giver. This usually stems from trying to see it as we do cognition. However, if cognition is a map, intuition is our compass. If cognition is our street address, then intuition is our city, state or nation.

Of course, visualizations help to differentiate between cognition and intuition. I use the schematic below that way. Cognition represents logic and reason, easily connecting each point because one naturally follows the other. One thought connects the next.

Intuition on the other hand is like trying to find the best line to represent a group of observations. It doesn’t connect them as easily and new points don’t always fall on or near the line; however, taken as a group, our observations form a pattern giving a sense of direction to them. Thus, intuition narrows our possibilities. More significantly, we don’t need many observations to get this directional sense.

For example, we can predict tendencies of people simply by looking at what they buy. In some cases, if we know their favorite car, beverage, hobby, store and book, we can make predictions about their favorite restaurant. Political campaigns take such consumer information and make accurate predictions about what candidates and issues potential voters might prefer. We can form psychological profiles of people from consumer – and other – activities, similar to what we see on crime shows when tracking criminals.

While these examples are very conscious, we unconsciously pick up patterns too. These are translated into feelings, emotions and finally intuitions. That is why it’s important to listen to how we feel. It might be our intuition giving us some direction, giving us a north. In this sense, intuition can be our guiding star.


Related link: My Intuition White Paper (3 pages)


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Businesses spend much money on developing their visions, strategies and processes; however, they spend relatively little on culture, which trumps all of the others. Megan McArdle discusses her observations of General Motors and others in “Why Companies Fail,” appearing in the March 2012 issue of The Atlantic.

When we talk about vision, strategy and process, they are very much head concepts as opposed to heart ones. For example, they don’t concern themselves much with the relationships that employees have between one another or even the relationships that the management team has with employees. The simplest relational techniques are rarely connected to these heady concepts when, in fact, it’s relationships that drive the cohesion and morale of any organization.

Unless we touch our employees on their emotional foundation, vision, strategy and process will fall far short of their intended success. This perspective transforms leadership into more of an emotional function from a rational one.  This perspective also helps us understand why common business tools such as incentives and processes can retard our efforts to build relationships and effect change.

Using a farming analogy, it doesn’t matter what vision, strategy and processes we use; if the soil isn’t good, we will struggle. In business, the soil is the relationship between the management team and employees. It forms the foundation of a company’s culture. If that team can’t develop effect relationships or isn’t motivated to even use simple relationship building techniques, then how can we expect it to implement great visions, strategies and processes?


Related post: Great Strategy? Don’t Neglect Culture


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There is no place that the revisiting of our unconscious urges are taken more seriously than in retailing. The Economist article “Retail Therapy” appearing in the December 17, 2011 edition gives a great historical accounting of the rise and fall . . . and rise again of the application of Freud in business which Ernest Dichter is noted for introducing. As the article asserts:

Every week seems to yield a new discovery about how bad people are at making decisions. Humans, it turns out, are impressionable, emotional and irrational.

Increasingly, researchers are finding Dichter’s assessment that “most people have no idea why they buy things” to be correct.

Of course, “Sigmund Freud argued that people are governed by irrational, unconscious urges over a century ago.” However, as we saw earlier, it took science almost a hundred years to acknowledge that the subconscious existed. Meanwhile, “businesses were recognizing the limits of quantitative studies . . . which offered little genuine insight into how customers behaved.” Said more directly, you can’t rely on customers to tell you what they might buy.

The failures of online dating showed this truth as well as research into people’s internet surfing habits. The Atlantic’s article, “Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media,” which appeared in its April 2011 demonstrated that it’s “not what [people] say they want, nor what they ‘should’ want, but what they choose when they have a chance.”

If this applies to purchases, it also applies to all decisions. Names can affect decisions about scientific grants, and information that judges know is wrong can affect their decisions. So, if people don’t behave and choose as they said they would, we have no one to blame but ourselves for not looking deeper into the real emotions powering us.


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I decided to revisit the illusion of free will after running across two other articles reinforcing it. As technology and research methodologies advance, we are finding more and more that biological and psychological factors heavily influence us without our knowledge, further eroding the rational actor theory. This theory forms the basis of many decision-making models in business; however, it’s turning out we cannot expect people to behave rationally.

The article by David Eagleman, “The Brain on Trial,” appearing in the July/August 2011 of The Atlantic, discusses recent brain and genetic research. Whether you believe nature or nurture is the more impactive force in our development, the point is this: we control neither. If free will really existed, we wouldn’t need drugs to cure depression because threats would work. As Eagleman also indicates, free will has tremendous difficulty overcoming what our subconscious has already decided to do. We cannot divorce behavior from biology or the unconscious. At minimum, free will operates in an increasingly smaller field of play.

We are also learning that genes don’t just change at an evolutionary rate but at a generational one too. In the July 23, 2011 of The Economist, the article, Baby Blues, mentions, “a mother’s stress while she is pregnant can have a long-lasting effect on her children’s genes.”
Biology and genes form an integral part of our personalities. As I mentioned in my previous post, if we look at personalities as being analogous to software in computers, we can see where knowing the personality can help us predict behaviors in much the same way as knowing the software can help us predict what a computer will do.

What this means is that our decisions need to factor in a reality where people don’t behave rationally because they aren’t free to do so.


Related link: Illusion of Free Will


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