On The Better Angels of our Nature

I recently finished reading The Better Angels of our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined – by Steven Pinker.

Below are excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history…No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence. Daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped, or killed, and it’s hard to develop sophisticated arts, learning, or commerce if the institutions that support them are looted and burned as quickly as they are built.

Systemic cruelty was far from unique to Europe. Hundreds of methods of torture, applied to millions of victims, have been documented in other civilizations, including the Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans, Chinese, Hindus, Polynesians, Aztecs, and many African kingdoms and Native American tribes. Brutal killings and punishments were also documented among the Israelites, Greeks, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks. Indeed, as we saw at the end of chapter 2, all of the first complex civilizations were absolutist theocracies which punished victimless crimes with torture and mutilation.

He then outlined his three conditions for perpetual peace. The first is that states should be democratic. Kant himself preferred the term republican, because he associated the word democracy with mob rule; what he had in mind was a government dedicated to freedom, equality, and the rule of law…Kant’s second condition for perpetual peace was that “the law of nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States”—a “League of Nations,” as he also called it…The third condition for perpetual peace is “universal hospitality” or “world citizenship.”

An interesting question is what inflated the empathy circle. And a good candidate is the expansion of literacy.

The vulnerability to civil war of countries in which control of the government is a winner-take-all jackpot is multiplied when the government controls windfalls like oil, gold, diamonds, and strategic minerals. Far from being a blessing, these bonanzas create the so-called resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty and fool’s gold. Countries with an abundance of nonrenewable, easily monopolized resources have slower economic growth, crappier governments, and more violence.

Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition…Another causal pathway is an increase in invitations to adopt the viewpoints of people unlike oneself.

Dangerous ideologies erupt when these faculties fall into toxic combinations. Someone theorizes that infinite good can be attained by eliminating a demonized or dehumanized group. A kernel of like-minded believers spreads the idea by punishing disbelievers. Clusters of people are swayed or intimidated into endorsing it. Skeptics are silenced or isolated. Self-serving rationalizations allow people to carry out the scheme against what should be their better judgment.

On a closing note:

Yet while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, that species has also found ways to bring the numbers down, and allow a greater and greater proportion of humanity to live in peace and die of natural causes. For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible.

A highly recommended read in the areas of sociology and psychology.


Dealing with People: Your Key to Success and Happiness

In a recent blog post, colleague Eric Barker, author of the blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree shared the well established fact, that there is a strong correlation between our life satisfaction and the quality of relationships within it.

Given the importance of these relationships, why do we often find ourselves in a situation where we struggle to establish new relationships or maintain or strengthen existing ones. According to Les Giblin, author of How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People:

One of the big reasons so many people lack confidence in dealing with others is that they do not understand what they are dealing with. We are always unsure of ourselves and lack confidence when we are dealing with the unknown. Watch a mechanic try to repair the engine of a strange automobile that he does not understand. He hesitates. His every movement shows lack of confidence. Then watch a master mechanic, who understands the engine he is working with. His every movement exudes confidence. It is the same for anything we are dealing with. The more we know about it—the more confidence we will have in dealing with it.

The key then to develop successful relationships is in understanding the laws of human nature:

The real key to successful human relations is learning as much as we can about human nature as it is, not as we think it ought to be. Only when we understand just what we are dealing with are we in a position to deal with it successfully.

Yet, we have to be careful that when being applied, these principles need to be contextualized to the specific individual we are dealing with:

Skill in human relations is similar to skill in any other field in that success depends upon understanding and mastering certain basic general principles. You must not only know what to do, but why you’re doing it.

Don’t be a Johnny-One-Note, As far as basic principles are concerned, people are all the same. Yet each individual person you meet is different. If you attempted to learn some gimmick to deal successfully with each separate individual you met, you would be faced with a hopeless task, just as a pianist would be up against an impossible task if he had to learn each individual composition as something entirely new and unique.

What the pianist does is to master certain principles. He learns certain basic things about music. He practices certain exercises until he develops skill at the keyboard. When he has mastered these basic things, he can then play any piece of music that is put before him, with some practice and additional learning. For although each individual piece of music is different from every other—there are only 88 keys on the piano, and only eight notes in the scale. Whether you are a pianist or not, you can quickly learn to strike a “pretty chord” on the piano. With more patience you can learn to strike separately all the separate chords that the concert pianist uses. But this does not make you a pianist If you tried to give a concert you would be a flop.

Influencing people is an art, not a gimmick. In much the same way, this is what happens when you try to learn a few gimmicks of “influencing people” and apply them in a superficial, mechanical way. You go through the same motions as the man or woman who “has a way” with people, but somehow they don’t seem to work for you. You hit the same notes but no music comes out. The purpose of this book is not to teach you a few “chords,” but to help you master the keyboard—not to teach you a few gimmicks of dealing with people but to give you “know-how’ based upon an understanding of human nature and why people act the way they do.

Les starts out by explaining some basic laws of human nature that we need to understand in order to influence others:

1. We are all egotists.

2. We are all more interested in ourselves than in anything else in the world.

3. Every person you meet wants to feel important, and to amount to something.

4. There is a hunger in every human being for approval.

5. A hungry ego is a mean ego. mean ego.

6. Satisfy the other person’s hunger for self-esteem and he automatically becomes more friendly and likeable.

7. Jesus said, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Psychologists now tell us that unless you do love yourself in the sense of having some feeling of self-esteem and self-regard, it is impossible for you to feel friendly toward other people.

8. Remember LS/MFT. Low Self-esteem Means Trouble and Friction.

9. Help the other fellow like himself better and you make him easier to get along with.

10. People act, or fail to act, largely to enhance their own egos.

Given the above laws, he goes on to explain that we have a virtually unlimited ability to add to the feeling of personal worth to others that we should leverage:

1. Don’t be stingy in feeding the hunger for a feeling of importance.

2. Don’t underestimate ”small courtesies” such as being on time for an appointment It is by such small things that we acknowledge the importance of the other person. Unfortunately, we are often more courteous to strangers than to home folks. Try treating your family and friends with the same courtesy you show strangers.

3. Remind yourself that other people are important, and your attitude will get across to the other person.

4. Starting today, begin to notice other people more. Pay attention to a man or a child, and you make him feel important.

5. Don’t lord it over other people, or attempt to increase your own feeling of self-importance by making other people feel small.

In more ways than we realize, we control the actions and attitudes of others:

1. Whether you realize it or not, you control the actions and attitudes of others by your own actions and attitudes.

2. Your own attitudes are reflected back to you from the other person almost as if you stood before a mirror.

3. Act or feel hostile and the other fellow reflects this hostility back to you. Shout at him, and he is almost compelled to shout back. Act calmly and unemotionally, and you turn away his anger before it gets started.

4. Act enthusiastic and you arouse the enthusiasm of the Other person.

5. Act confidently and the other person has confidence in you.

6. Begin today deliberately to cultivate an enthusiastic attitude. Take a tip from Frank Bettger and act as if you were enthusiastic Soon you’ll feel enthusiastic

7. Right now, begin deliberately to cultivate a confident manner. Don’t mumble your words as if you were afraid to express them. Speak out. Watch your posture. A slumped figure signifies that you find the burdens of life too heavy for you to bear. A drooping head signifies that you are defeated by life. Hold your head up. Straighten up your shoulders. Walk with a confident step, as if you had somewhere important to go.

Your ability to influence others, and control the actions and attitudes in others depends in large part to how you start the conversation:

1. In dealing with other people, you yourself sound the keynote for the entire theme, when you begin the interview.

2. If you start off on a note of formality, the meeting will he formal. Start off on a note of friendliness and the meeting will be friendly. Set the stage for a businesslike discussion, and it will be business-like. Start on a note of apology and the other person will force you to play that theme all the way through.

3. When you meet someone for the first time, the impression you make then is very likely to be the keynote that will determine how he regards you for the rest of your life.

4. Other people tend to accept you at your own evaluation. If you think you are a nobody, you are practically asking other people to snub you.

5. One of the best means ever discovered for impressing the other fellow favorably is not to strive too hard to make an impression, but to let him know that he is making a good impression on you.

6. People judge you not only by the opinion you hold of yourself, but also by the opinions you hold on other things: your job, your company, even your competition.

7. Negative opinions create a negative atmosphere. Don’t be a knocker. And don’t be a sorehead.

8. The way, itself, in which you ask things, sets the stage or sounds the keynote for the other person’s answer. Don’t ask “no” questions if you want “yes” answers. Don’t ask questions or issue instructions that imply you expect trouble. Why ask for trouble?

For making and keeping friends, Les shares guidance in two areas, the first on how to attract others:

1. The real secret of an attractive personality is to offer other people the food they are hungry for. People are as hungry for certain things as flies are for honey.

2. Use the Triple-A Formula for attracting people:

Acceptance. Accept people as they are. Allow them to be themselves. Don’t insist on anyone being perfect before you can like him. Don’t fashion a moral strait jacket and expect Others to wear it in order to gain your acceptance. Above all don’t bargain for acceptance. Don’t say, in substance, “I’ll accept you if you’ll do this or that, or change your ways to suit me.”

Approval. Look for something to approve in the other person. It may be something small or insignificant. But let the other person know you approve that, and the number of things you can sincerely approve of will begin to grow. When the other person gets a taste of your genuine approval, he will begin to change his behavior so that he will be approved for other things.

Appreciation. To appreciate means to raise in value, as opposed to depreciate, which means to lower in value. Let Other people know that you value them. Treat other people as if they were valuable to you. Don’t keep them waiting. Thank them. Give them “special”, individual treatment.

The second on how to make others feel friendly:

1. Human relations often become deadlocked because each party is afraid to make the first move.

2. Don’t wait for a sign from the other fellow. Assume that he is going to be friendly, and act accordingly.

3. Don’t wait for a sign from the other fellow. Assume that he is going to be friendly, and act accordingly.

4. Assume the attitude that you wish the other person to take. Act as if you expected him to like you. Take a chance that the other fellow will be friendly. It is always a gamble, but you’ll win 99 times for every time you lose, if you’ll just bet on his being friendly. Refuse to take the chance, and you’ll lose every time.

5. Don’t be an eager-beaver. Don’t be overly anxious. don’t knock yourself out trying to make the other fellow like you. Remember, there is such a thing as being too charming and trying too hard.

6. Just relax and take for granted that other people do like

7. Use the magic of your smile to warm up the other fellow.

8. Starting today, begin to develop a genuine smile by practicing before your bathroom mirror. You know what a real smile looks like when you see one. Your mirror will tell you whether your smile is real or phoney. Also, going through the motions of smiling will get you in the habit, and actually make you fed more like smiling.

To be successful at engaging others, effective speaking techniques are crucial, in particular: skill in using words, empathic listening, and persuasion. Les goes on to discuss each of these areas and offers practical advice within each.

On the importance of developing skill is using words, and how we can improve ourselves within that area:

1. Both success and happiness depend in large measure on our ability to express ourselves. Therefore, start today to study ways to improve your talk. Keep at it day after day.

2. Practice starting conversations with strangers by using the warm-up technique of asking simple questions or making obvious observations.

3. To be a good conversationalist, stop trying to be perfect, and don’t be afraid to be trite. Nuggets and gems in conversation come only after you have dug a lot of low-grade ore.

4. Ask questions to bring out interesting talk from others. 5. Encourage the other person to talk about himself. Talk about the other person’s interests.

6. Use the “me-too” technique to identify yourself with the speaker and his interests.

7. Talk about yourself only when you are invited to do so by the other person. If he wants to know about you, he’ll ask.

8. Use “‘Happy Talk.” Remember, nobody likes a Gloomy Gus or a prophet of doom. Keep your troubles to yourself.

9. Eliminate kidding, teasing, and sarcasm from your conversation.

On the importance of empathic listening:

When Oliver Wendell Holmes for advice on how to get elected to office, Justice Holmes wrote him: “To be able to listen to others in a sympathetic and understanding manner is perhaps the most effective mechanism in the world for getting along with people and tying up their friendship for good. Too few people practice the “white magic” of being good listeners.”

And some practical tips on how we can practice it:

Seven Ways to Practice Listening:

1. Look at the person who is talking.

2. Appear deeply interested in what he is saying.

3. Lean toward the person who is talking.

4. Ask questions.

5. Don’t interrupt; instead, ask him to tell more.

6. Stick to the speaker’s subject.

7. Use the speaker’s words to get your own point across.

On persuasion, Les cautions us about being fixated about winning the argument:

When you have a difference of opinion with someone, your object should not be to “win an argument,” but to get the other person to change his own mind and see things your way. Thus, you must avoid bringing his ego into play. You must slip your “logical reasons” past his ego, then clinch it by leaving him a loophole through which he can escape from his previous position.

The following six rules will help you accomplish this:

1. Let him State his case.

2. Pause momentarily before you answer.

3. Don’t insist on winning 100 per cent.

4. State your case moderately and accurately.

5.Speak through third persons

6. Let the other fellow save face.

In the last section of the book, Les covers three areas, which are particularly relevant for leaders and managers: cooperation, praise and constructive criticism.

On cooperation:

1. If you want other people to help you, and go all out. you must ask for then: ideas as well as for their brawn.

2. Make the other fellow feel that your problem is his problem.

3. Use the principle of multiple management, giving each member of the team a voice in how the team is to Operate.

4. When you want someone to do you a favor, make him a member of your team. Don’t just say, “How about putting in a good word for me.” Say, “If you were in my shoes and wanted to get favorable attention, how would you go about it?”

5. Set up your own brain trust, and make use of the ideas. suggestions, and advice of other people.

6. Be sure when you ask for advice you actually want advice. Don’t ask for advice if all you want is sympathy or a pat on the back.

On praise:

1. Sincere praise miraculously releases energy in the other person, perks him up physically, as well as giving his spirits a lift.

2. The person who is discouraged, doing sloppy work, or just hard to get along with is probably suffering from low self-esteem. Praise can act as a wonder drug to give his self-esteem a healthy shot in the arm, change his behavior for the better.

3. Give others credit for what they do. Show your appreciation of what they have done by saying “thank you.”

4. Be generous with kind statements. Gratitude is not a common thing. By being generous with gratitude, you make yourself a stand-out.

5. Increase your own happiness and peace of mind by paying three sincere compliments each day.

On constructive criticism:

Remember that criticism, to be successful, most be for <he purpose of accomplishing some worthwhile goal for both yourself and the person you’re criticizing. Don’t criticize just to bolster your own ego. And steer dear of the other fellow’s ego when you must correct him.

Memorize these Seven Musts and begin to put them into practice:

1. Criticism must be made in absolute privacy.

2. Preface criticism with a kind word or compliment

3. Make the criticism impersonal Criticize the act, not the person.

4. Supply the answer.

5.Ask for cooperation-don’t demand it

6. One criticism to an offense.

7. Finish in a friendly fashion.

On a closing note, remember:

Human relations can bring you both success and happiness. You should regard it as a skill that you are going to learn — a very rewarding skill. You should look forward to getting a real sense of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment by improving your human relations. This positive outlook gives you an incentive to reach definite goals.

How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People is a must read, and a great complement to Dale Carnegie‘s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.

On Flow

I just finished reading Flow – The Psychology Of Optimal Experience – Steps Toward Enhancing The Quality Of Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “This book summarizes, for a general audience, decades of research on the positive aspects of human experience—joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life I call flow…This book tries instead to present general principles. along with concrete examples of how some people have used these principles, to transform boring and meaningless lives into ones fill of enjoyment.”

2- “What I “discovered” was that happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.”

3- “From their accounts of what it felt like to do what they were doing, I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

4- “The most important step in emancipating oneself from social controls is the ability to find rewards in the events of each moment. If a person learns to enjoy and find meaning in the ongoing stream of experience, in the process of living itself, the burden of social controls automatically falls from one’s shoulders. Power returns to the person when rewards are no longer relegated to outside forces. It is no longer necessary to struggle for goals that always seem to recede into the future, to end each boring day with the hope that tomorrow, perhaps, something good will happen. Instead of forever straining for the tantalizing prize dangled just out of reach, one begins to harvest the genuine rewards of living. But it is not by abandoning ourselves to instinctual desires that we become free of social controls. We must also become independent from the dictates of the body, and learn to take charge of what happens in the mind. Pain and pleasure occur in consciousness and exist only there. As long as we obey the socially conditioned stimulus-response patterns that exploit our biological inclinations, we are controlled from the outside. To the extent that a glamorous ad makes us salivate for the product sold or that a frown from the boss spoils the day, we are not free to determine the content of experience. Since what we experience is reality, as far as we are concerned, we can transform reality to the extent that we influence what happens in consciousness and thus free ourselves from the threats and blandishments of the outside world.”

5- “Control over consciousness cannot be institutionalized. As soon as it becomes part of a set of social rules and norms, it ceases to be effective in the way it was originally intended to be. Routinization, unfortunately, tends to take place very rapidly. Freud was still alive when his quest for liberating the ego from its oppressors was turned into a Staid ideology and a rigidly regulated profession. Marx was even less fortunate: his attempts to free consciousness from the tyranny of economic exploitation were soon turned into a system of repression that would have boggled the poor founder’s mind.”

6- “Over the endless dark centuries of its evolution, the human nervous stem has become so complex that it is now able to affect its own states, making it to a certain extent functionally independent of its genetic blueprint and of the objective environment. A person can make himself happy, or miserable, regardless of what is actually happy “outside,” just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all kn»now individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome, just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well.”

7- “Whenever information disrupts consciousness by threatening its goals we have a condition of inner disorder, or psychic entropy, a disorganization of the self that impairs its effectiveness. Prolonged experiences of this kind can weaken the self to the point that it is no longer able to invest attention and pursue its goals.”

8- “Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasing complex that the self might be said to grow. Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others. Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people. with ideas and entities beyond the self. A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies. The self becomes more differentiated as a result of flow because overcoming a challenge inevitably leaves a person feeling more capable, more skilled. As the rock climber said, “You look back in awe at the self, at what you’ve done, it just blows your mind.” After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills. Complexity is often thought to have a negative meaning, synonymous with difficulty and confusion. That may be true, but only if we equate it with differentiation alone. Yet complexity also involves a second dimension—the integration of autonomous parts. A complex engine, for instance, not only has many separate components, each performing a different function, but also demonstrates a high sensitivity because each of the components is in touch with all the others. Without integration, a differentiated system would be a confusing mess. “low helps to integrate the self because in that state of deep concentration consciousness is unusually well ordered. Thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all the senses are focused on the same goal. Experience is in harmony.”

9- “There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better. For instance, feeling secure is an important component of happiness. The sense of security can be improved by buying a gun, installing strong locks on the front door, moving to a safer neighborhood, exerting political pressure on city hall for more police protection, or helping the community to become more conscious of the importance of civil order. All these different responses are aimed at bringing conditions in the environment more in line with our goals. The other method by which we can feel more secure involves modifying what we mean by security. If one does not expect perfect safety, recognizes hat risks are inevitable, and succeeds in enjoying a less than ideally predictable world, the threat of insecurity will not have as great a chance of marring happiness. Neither of these strategies is effective when used alone. Changing external conditions might seem to work at first, but if a person is not in control of his consciousness, the old fears or desires will soon return, reviving previous anxieties. One cannot create a complete sense of inner security even by buying one’s own Caribbean island and surrounding it with armed bodyguards and attack dogs.”

10- “As our studies have suggested, the phenomenology of enjoyment has eight major components. When people reflect on how it feels when their experience is most positive, they mention at least one, and often all, of the following. First, the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing. Second, we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing. Third and fourth, the concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals and provides immediate feedback. Fifth, one acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life. Sixth, enjoyable experiences allow people to exercise a sense of control over their actions. Seventh, concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the flow experience is over. Finally, the sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours. The combination of all these elements causes a sense of deep enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.”

11- “The same situation holds true for the artist painting a picture, and for all activities that are creative or open-ended in nature. But these are all activities that are creative or open-ended in nature. But these are all recognize and gauge feedback in such activities, she will not enjoy them. In some creative activities, where goals are not clearly set in advance, a person must develop a strong personal sense of what she intends to do. The artist might not have a visual image of what the finished painting should look like, but when the picture has progressed to a certain point, she should know whether this is what she wanted to achieve or not.”

12- “As this example illustrates, what people enjoy is not the sense of being in control, but the sense of exercising? control in difficult situations. It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.”

13- “In our studies, we found that every flow activity, whether it involved competition, chance, or dimension of experience, had this in common: It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality. It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed-of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities.”

14- “There is ample evidence to suggest that how parents interact with a child will have a lasting effect on the kind of person that child grow up to be. In one of our studies conducted at the University of Chicago, for example, Kevin Rathunde observed that teenagers who had certain types of relationship with their parents were significantly more happy, satisfied, and strong in most life situations than their peers who did not have such a relationship. The family context promoting optimal d experience could be described as having five characteristics. The first one is clarity: the teenagers feel that they know what their parents expect from them—goals and feedback in the family interaction are unambiguous. he second is centering, or the children’s perception that their of parents are interested in what they are doing in the present, concrete feelings and experiences, rather than being preoccupied with whether they will be getting into a good college or obtaining a well-paying job. Next is the issue of choice: children feel that the variety of possibilities from which to choose, including that of breaking parental rules—as long as they are prepared to face the consequences. The fourth differentiating characteristic is commitment, or the trust that allows the child to feel comfortable enough to set aside the shield of his defenses. and become unselfconsciously involved in whatever he is interested in. And finally there is challenge, or the parents’ dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities for action to their children.”

15- “Without interest in the world, a desire to be actively related to it. a person becomes isolated into himself. Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest philosophers of our century, described how he achieved personal happiness: “Gradually 1 learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to center my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.” There could be no better short description of how to build for oneself an autotelic personality. In part such a personality is a gift of biological inheritance and early upbringing. Some people are born with a more focused and flexible neurological endowment, or are fortunate to have had parents who promoted unselfconscious individuality. But it is an ability open to cultivation, a skill one can perfect through training and discipline. It is now time to explore further the ways this can be done.”

16- “Even the simplest physical act becomes enjoyable when it is transformed so as to produce flow. The essential steps in this process are: (a) to set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as are realistically feasible; (b) to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen; (c) to keep concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved in the activity; (d) to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available; and (e) to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring.”

17- “To realize the body’s potential for flow is relatively easy. It does not require special talents or great expenditures of money. Everyone can greatly improve the quality of life by exploring one or more previously ignored dimensions of physical abilities. Of course, it is difficult for any one person to reach high levels of complexity in more than one physical domain. The skills necessary to become good athletes, dancers, or connoisseurs of sights, sounds, or tastes are so demanding that one individual not have enough psychic energy in his waking lifetime to master more than a few. But it is certainly possible to become a dilettante—in finest sense of that word—in all these areas, in other words, to develop sufficient skills so as to find delight in what the body can do.”

18- “But for a person who has nothing to remember, life can become severely impoverished. This possibility was completely overlooked by educational reformers early in this century, who, armed with research results, proved that “rote learning” was not an efficient way to store and acquire information. As a result of their efforts, rote learning was phased out of the schools. The reformers would have had justification, if the point of remembering was simply to solve practical problems. But if control of consciousness is judged to be at least as important as the ability to get things done, then learning complex patterns of information by heart is by no means a waste of effort. A mind with some stable content to it is much richer than one without. It is a mistake to assume that creativity and rote learning are incompatible. Some of the most original scientists, for instance, have been known to have memorized music, poetry, or historical information extensively.”

19- “External forces are very important in determining which new ideas will be selected from among the many available; but they cannot explain their production. It is perfectly true, for instance, that the development and application of the knowledge of atomic energy were expedited enormously by the life-and-death struggle over the bomb between dited enormously by the life-and-death struggle over the bomb between Germany on the one hand, and England and the United States on the little to the war; it was made possible through knowledge laid down in more peaceful circumstances—for example, in the friendly exchange of more peaceful circumstances—tor example, in the friendly exchange of over to Niels Bohr and his scientific colleagues by a brewery in Copenhagen.”

20- “The bad connotations that the terms amateur and dilettante have earned for themselves over the years are due largely to the blurring of the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. An amateur who pretends to know as much as a professional is probably wrong, and up to some mischief. The point of becoming an amateur scientist is not to compete with professionals on their own turf, but to use a symbolic discipline to extend mental skills, and to create order in consciousness.”

21- “At the same time, it would be erroneous to expect that if all ill jobs were constructed like games, everyone would enjoy them. Even the mos favorable external conditions do not guarantee that a person will 1 be in flow. Because optimal experience depends on a subjective evaluation of what the possibilities for action are, and of one’s own capacities, it happens quite often that an individual will be discontented even with a potentially great job.”

22- “A community should be judged good not because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges. Similarly the value of a school does not depend on its prestige, or its ability to train students to face up to the necessities of life, but rather on the degree of the enjoyment of lifelong learning it can transmit. A good factory is not necessarily the one that makes the most money, but the one that is most responsible for improving the quality of life for its workers and its customers. And the true function of politics is not to make people more affluent, safe, or powerful, but to let as many as possible enjoy an increasingly complex existence.”

23- “Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal. There are three main steps that seem to be involved in such transformations: 1. Unselfconscious self-assurance…2. Focusing attention on the world…3. The discovery of new solutions.”

24- “THE AUTOTELIC SELF: A SUMMARY – 1. Setting goals…2. Becoming immersed in the activity…3.Paying attention to what is happening…4. Learning to enjoy immediate experience.”

25- “But complexity consists of integration as well as differentiation. The task of the next decades and centuries is to realize this underdeveloped component of the mind. Just as we have learned to separate ourselves from each other and from the environment, we now need to learn how to reunite ourselves with other entities around us without losing our hard-won individuality. The most promising faith for the future might be based on the realization that the entire universe is a system related by common laws and that it makes no sense to impose our dreams and desires on nature without taking them into account. Recognizing the limitations of human will, accepting a cooperative rather than a ruling role in the universe, we should feel the relief of the exile who is finally returning home. The problem of meaning will then be resolved as the individual’s purpose merges with the universal flow.”


Omar Halabieh


On Phantoms In The Brains

I recently finished reading Phantoms In The Brain – Probing the Mysteries Of The Human Mind – by V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., and Sandra Blakeslee. This book was recommended to me by Goodreads based on an earlier reading of the same genre – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Trials by Oliver Sacks, M.D.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “I mention this episode to emphasize that a single medical student or resident whose mind is open to new ideas and who works without sophisticated equipment can revolutionize the practice of medicine. It is in this spirit that we should all undertake our work, because one never knows what nature is hiding. I’d also like to say a word about speculation, a term that has acquired a pejorative connotation among some scientists. Describing someone’s idea as “mere speculation” is often considered insulting. This is unfortunate. As the English biologist Peter Medawar has noted, “An imaginative conception of what might be true is the starting point of all great discoveries in science.” Ironically, this is sometimes true even when the speculation turns out to be wrong…Every scientist knows that the best research emerges from a dialectic between speculation and healthy skepticism. Ideally the two should coexist in the same brain, but they don’t have to. Since there are people who represent both extremes, all ideas eventually get tested ruthlessly. ”

2-“The famous saying “May you live in interesting times” has a special meaning now for those of us who study the brain and human behavior. On the one hand, despite two hundred years of research, the most basic questions about the human mind—How do we recognize faces? Why do we cry? Why do we laugh? Why do we dream? and Why do we enjoy music and art?—remain unanswered, as does the really big question: What is consciousness? On the other hand, the advent of novel experimental approaches and imaging techniques is sure to transform our understanding of the human brain. What a unique privilege it will be for our generation—and our children’s—to witness what I believe will be the greatest revolution in the history of the human race: understanding ourselves. The prospect of doing so is at once both exhilarating and disquieting. There is something distinctly odd about a hairless neotenous primate that has evolved into a species that can look back over its own shoulder and ask questions about its origins. And odder still, the brain can not only discover how other brains work but also ask questions about its own existence: Who am I? What happens after death? Does my mind arise exclusively from neurons in my brain? And if so, what scope is there for free will? It is the peculiar recursive quality of these questions—as the brain struggles to understand itself—that makes neurology fascinating.”

3- “But before we begin, I think it’s important for you to understand my personal approach to science and why I am drawn to curious cases. When I give talks to lay audiences around the country, one question comes up again and again: “When are you brain scientists ever going to come up with a unified theory for how the mind works? There’s Einstein’s general theory of relativity and Newton’s universal law of gravitation in physics. Why not one for the brain?” My answer is that we are not yet at the stage where we can formulate grand unified theories of mind and brain. Every science has to go through an initial “experiment” or phenomena-driven stage—in which its practitioners are still discovering the basic laws—before it reaches a more sophisticated theory-driven stage…My point is simply that neuroscience today is in the Faraday stage, not in the Maxwell stage, and there is no point in trying to jump ahead. I would love to be proved wrong, of course, and there is certainly no harm in trying to construct formal theories about the brain, even if one fails (and there is no shortage of people who are trying). But for me, the best research strategy might be characterized as “tinkering.” Whenever I use this word, many people look rather shocked, as if one couldn’t possibly do sophisticated science by just playing around with ideas and without an overarching: theory to guide one’s hunches. But that’s exactly what I mean (although these hunches are far from random; they are always guided by intuition.”

4- “First and foremost, they suggest that brain maps can change, sometimes with astonishing rapidity. This finding flatly contradicts one of the most widely accepted dogmas in neurology— the fixed nature of connections in the adult human brain. It had always been assumed that once this circuitry, including the Penfield map, has been laid down in fetal life or in early infancy, there is very little one can do to modify it in adulthood. Indeed, this presumed absence of plasticity in the adult brain is often invoked to explain why there is so little recovery of function after brain injury and why neurological ailments are so notoriously difficult to treat. But the evidence from Tom shows— contrary to what is taught in textbooks—that new, highly precise and functionally effective pathways can emerge in the adult brain as early as four weeks after injury. It certainly doesn’t follow that revolutionary new treatments for neurological syndromes will emerge from this discovery right away, but it does provide some grounds for optimism.”

5- “When we experience pain, special pathways are activated simultaneously both to carry the sensation and to amplify it or dampen it down as needed. Such “volume control” (sometimes called gate control) is what allows us to modulate our responses to pain effectively in response to changing demands (which might explain why acupuncture works or why women in some cultures don’t experience pain during labor). Among amputees, it’s entirely possible that these volume control mechanisms have gone awry as a result of remapping—resulting in an echo-like “wha wha” reverberation and amplification of pain. Second, remapping is inherently a pathological or abnormal process, at least when it occurs on a large-scale, as after the loss of a limb. It’s possible that the touch synapses are not quite correctly rewired and their activity could be chaotic. Higher brain centers would then interpret the abnormal pattern of input as junk, which is perceived as pain. In truth, we really don’t know how the brain translates patterns of nerve activity into conscious experience, be it pain, pleasure or color.”

6- “This simple experiment not only shows how malleable your body image is but also illustrates the single most important principle underlying all of perception—that the mechanisms of perception are mainly involved in extracting statistical correlations from the world to create a model that is temporarily useful.”

7- “For your entire life, you’ve been walking around assuming that your “self is anchored to a single body that remains stable and permanent at least until death. Indeed, the “loyalty” of yourself to your own body is so axiomatic that you never have to pause to think about it, let alone question it. Yet these experiments suggest the exact opposite—that your body image, despite all its appearance of durability, is an entirely transitory internal construct that can be profoundly modified with just a few simple tricks. It is merely a shell that you’ve temporarily created for successfully passing on your genes to your offspring.”

8- “So the first step in understanding perception is to get rid of the idea of images in the brain and to begin thinking about symbolic descriptions of objects and events in the external world. A good example of a symbolic description is a written paragraph like the ones on this page. If you had to convey to a friend in China what your apartment looks like, you wouldn’t have to tele-transport it to China. All you’d have to do would be to write a letter describing your apartment. Yet the actual squiggles of ink—the words and paragraphs in the letter—bear no physical resemblance to your bedroom. The letter is a symbolic description of your bedroom.”

9- “In making these judgments, the brain takes advantage of the fact that the world we live in is not chaotic and amorphous; it has stable physical properties. During evolution—and partly during childhood as a result of learning—these stable properties became incorporated into the visual areas of the brain as certain “assumptions” or hidden knowledge about the world that can be used to eliminate ambiguity in perception.”

10- “Bear in mind that the filling in is not just some odd quirk of the visual system that has evolved for the sole purpose of dealing with the blind spot. Rather, it appears to be a manifestation of a very general ability to construct surfaces and bridge gaps that might be otherwise distracting in an image—the same ability, in fact, that allows you to see a rabbit behind a picket fence as a complete rabbit, not a sliced-up one. In our natural blind spot we have an especially obvious example of filling in—one that provides us with a valuable experimental opportunity to examine the “laws” that govern the process.”

11- “An important distinction must be made between perceptual and conceptual completion. To understand the difference, just think of the space behind your head now as you are sitting on your chair reading this book. You can let your mind wander, thinking about the kinds of objects that might be behind your head or body. Is there a window? A Martian? A gaggle of geese? With your imagination, you can “fill in” this missing space with just about anything, but since you can change your mind about the content, I call this process conceptual filling in. Perceptual filling in is very different. When you fill in your blind spot with a carpet design, you don’t have such choices about what fills that spot; you can’t change your mind about it. Perceptual filling in is carried out by visual neurons. Their decisions, once made, are irreversible: Once they signal to higher brain centers “Yes, this is a repetitive texture” or yes, this is a straight line.” what you perceive is irrevocable.”

12- “If I’m right, all these bizarre visual hallucinations are simply an exaggerated version of the processes that occur in your brain and mine every time we let our imagination run free. Somewhere in the confused welter of interconnecting forward and backward pathways is the interface between vision and imagination We don’t have clear ideas yet about where this interface is or how it works (or even whether there is a single interface), but these patients provide some tantalizing clues about what might be going on. The evidence from them suggests that what we call perception is really the end result of a dynamic interplay between sensory signals and high-level stored information about visual images from the past. Each time any one of us encounters an object, the visual system begins a constant questioning process. Fragmentary evidence comes in and the higher centers say, “Hmmmmm, maybe this is an animal.” Our brains then pose a series of visual questions: as in a twenty-questions game. Is it a mammal? A cat? What kind of cat? Tame? Wild? Big? Small? Black or white or tabby? The higher visual centers then project partial “best fit” answers back to lower visual areas including the primary visual “best fit” answers back to lower visual areas including the primary visual cortex. In this manner, the impoverished image is progressively worked on and refined (with bits “filled in,” when appropriate). I think that these massive feed forward and feedback projections are in the business of conducting successive iterations that enable us to home in on the closest approximation to the truth. To overstate the argument deliberately, perhaps we are hallucinating all the time and what we call perception is arrived at by simply determining which hallucination best conforms to the current sensory input. But if, as happens in Charles Bonnet syndrome, the brain does not receive confirming visual stimuli. it is free simply to make up its own reality. And, as James Thurber was well aware, there is apparently no limit to its creativity.”

13- “The idea that the right hemisphere is a left-wing revolutionary that generates paradigm shifts, whereas the left hemisphere is a die-hard conservative that clings to the status quo, is almost certainly a gross oversimplification, but, even if it turns out to be wrong, it does suggest new ways of doing experiments and goads us into asking novel questions about the denial syndrome.”

14- “One can make a list of the many kinds of self-deception that Sigmund and Anna Freud described and see clear-cut, amplified examples of each of them in our patients. It was seeing this list that convinced me for the first time of the reality of psychological defenses and the central role that they play in human nature. Denial…Repression…Reaction formation…Rationalization…Humor…Projection.”

15- “His Story offers insights into how each of us constructs narratives about our life and the people who inhabit it. In a sense your life—your autobiography—is a long sequence of highly personal episodic memories about your first kiss, prom night, wedding, birth of a child, fishing trips and so on. But it is also much more than that. Clearly, there is a personal identity, a sense of a unified “self” that runs like a golden thread through the whole fabric of our existence. The Scottish philosopher David Hume drew an analogy between the human personality and a river—the water in the river is ever-changing and yet the river itself remains constant. What would happen, he asked, if a person were to dip his foot into a river and then dip it in again after half an hour—would it be the same river or a different one? If you think this is a silly semantic riddle, you’re right, for the answer depends on your definition of “same” and “river.””

16- “There are some questions about the brain that are so mysterious, so deeply enigmatic, that most serious scientists simply shy away from them, as if to say, “That would be premature to study” and “I’d be a fool if I embarked on such a quest.” And yet these are the very issues that fascinate us most of all. The most obvious one, of course, is religion, a quintessentially human trait, but it is only one unsolved mystery of human nature. What about Other uniquely human traits—such as our capacity for music, math, humor and poetry? What allowed Mozart to compose an entire symphony in his head or mathematicians like Fermat or Ramanujan to “discover” flawless conjectures and theorems without ever going through step-by-step formal proofs? And what goes on in the brain of a person like Dylan Thomas that allowed him to write such evocative poetry? Is the creative spark simply an expression of the divine spark that exists in all of us? Ironically clues come from a bizarre condition called “idiot savant syndrome” (or, to use the more politically correct phrase, the savant syndrome). These individuals (retarded and yet highly talented) can give us valuable insights about the evolution of human nature—a topic that became an obsession for some of the greatest scientific minds of the last century.”

17- “According to Wallace, as the human brain evolved, it encountered a new and equally powerful force called culture. Once culture. language and writing emerged, he argued, human evolution became Lamarckian—that is, you could pass on the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime to your offspring. These progeny will be much wiser than the offspring of illiterates not because your genes have changed but simply because this knowledge—in the form of culture—has been transferred from your brain to your child’s brain. In this way, the brain is symbiotic with culture; the two are as interdependent as the naked hermit crab and with culture; the two are as interdependent as the naked hermit crab and its shell or the nucleated cell and its mitochondria. For Wallace, culture propels human evolution, making us absolutely unique in the animal kingdom. Isn’t it extraordinary, he said, that we are the only animal in which the mind is vastly more important than any bodily organ, assuming a tremendous significance because of what we call “culture.” Moreover, our brain actually helps us avoid the need for further specialization. Most organisms evolve to become more and more specialized as they take up new environmental niches, be it a longer neck for the giraffe or sonar for the bat. Humans, on the other hand, have evolved an organ, a brain, that gives us the capacity to evade specialization. We can colonize the Arctic without evolving a fur coat over millions of years like the polar bear because we can go kill one, take its coat and drape it on ourselves. And then we can give it to our children and grandchildren.”

18- “The moral of all this is not that we should have blind faith in the “wisdom of the East” but that there are sure to be many nuggets of insight in these ancient practices. However, unless we conduct systematic “Western-Style” experiments, we’ll never know which ones really work (hypnosis and meditation) and which ones don’t (crystal healing). Several laboratories throughout the world are poised to launch such experiments, and the first half of the next century will, in my view, be remembered as a golden age of neurology and mind-body medicine. It will be a time of great euphoria and celebration for novice researchers entering the field.”

19- “I won’t pretend to have solved these mysteries, but I do think there’s a new way to study consciousness by treating it not as a philosophical. logical or conceptual issue, but rather as an empirical problem.”

20- “It seems somehow disconcerting to be told that your life, all your hopes, triumphs and aspirations simply arise from the activity of neurons in your brain. But far from being humiliating, this idea is ennobling. I think. Science— cosmology, evolution and especially the brain sciences—is telling l us that we have no privileged position in the universe and that our sense of having a private non-material soul “watching the world” is really an illusion (as has long been emphasized by Eastern mystical traditions like Hinduism and Zen Buddhism). Once you realize that far from being a spectator, you are in fact part of the eternal ebb and flow of events in the cosmos, this realization is very liberating. Ultimately this idea also allows you to cultivate a certain humility—the essence of all authentic religious experience.”

21- “Paul Davies, who said: …”This can be no trivial detail, no minor by-product of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.” Are we? I don’t think brain science alone, despite all its triumphs, will ever answer that question. But that we can ask the question at all is, to me, the most puzzling aspect of our existence.”


Omar Halabieh

Phantoms In The Brain

On The Leadership Challenge

I recently finished reading The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Whether in their early twenties, late seventies, or anywhere between, leaders told us that the fundamentals of leadership are the same today as they were in the 1980s, and they’ve probably have been the same for centuries. Yet the leaders were quick to add that while the content of leadership has not changed, the context—and, in some cases, it has changed dramatically. What is this new context, and what are the implications for the practice of leadership? From heightening uncertainty across the world to an intense search for meaning, our connections as people and as leaders are part of this context. Heightened uncertainty…People first…We’re even more connected…Social capital…Speed…A changing workforce…Even more intense search for meaning.”

2- “Leaders do exhibit certain distinct practices when they are doing their best. This process varies little from industry to industry, profession to profession, community to community, country to country. Good leadership is individual, there are patterns to the practice of leadership that are shared. And that can be learned.”

3- “As we looked deeper into the dynamic process of leadership, through case analyses and survey questionnaires, we uncovered five practices common to personal-best leadership experiences. When getting extraordinary things done in organizations, leaders engage in these Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership: Model the Way. Inspire a Shared Vision. Challenge the Process. Enable Others to Act. Encourage the Heart.”

4- “Modeling the way is essentially about earning the right and the respect to lead through direct individual involvement and action. People first follow the person, then the plan.”

5- ” Leaders know well that innovation and change all involve experimentation, risk, and failure. They proceed anyway. One way of dealing with the potential risks and failures of experimentation is to approach change through incremental steps and small wins. Little victories, when piled on top of each other, build confidence that even the biggest challenges can be met. In so doing, they strengthen commitment to the long-term future. Yet not everyone is equally comfortable with risk and uncertainty. Leaders also pay attention to the capacity of their constituents to take control of challenging situations and become fully committed to change. You can’t exhort people to take risks if they don’t also feel safe.”

6- “Constituents neither perform at their best nor stick around for very long if their leader makes them feel weak, dependent, or alienated. But when a leader makes people feel strong and capable— as if they can do more than they ever thought possible—they’ll give it their all and exceed their own expectations. When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive. Through that relationship, leaders turn their constituents into leaders themselves.”

7- “Success in leadership, success in business, and success in life has been, is now, and will continue to be a function of how well people work and play together. We’re even more convinced of this today than we were twenty years ago. Success in leading will be wholly dependent upon the capacity to build and sustain those human relationships that enable people to get extraordinary things done on a regular basis.”

8- “THE TEN COMMITMENTS OF LEADERSHIP: 1. Find your voice by clarifying your personal values. 2. Set the example by aligning actions with shared values. 3. Envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. 4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations. 5. Search for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve. 6. Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from mistakes. 7. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust. 8. Strengthen others by sharing power and discretion. 9. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. 10. Celebrate the values and victories by creating a spirit of community.”

9- “As the data clearly show, for people to follow someone willingly, the majority of constituents must believe the leader is: Honest, Competent, Forward-looking and Inspiring.”

10- “To gain and sustain the moral authority to lead, it’s essential to Model the Way. Because of this important connection between words and actions, we’ve chosen to start our discussion of the Five Practices with a thorough examination of the principles and behaviors that bring Model the Way to life. First, in Chapter Three, we introduce you to why it’s essential to Find Your Voice—that unique expression of yourself that gives you the inner strength as a leader to «j«v what you will do. Then, in Chapter Four, we’ll take a look at how leaders Set the Example, the second half of the formula for establishing credibility. You’ll see how leaders must focus on their own personal values and how they must build and affirm shared values. Throughout the chapters and the action steps, you’ll also learn methods to align actions with values—the step in the process that communicates with deeds. not just words.”

11- ” Voice in this context is both a noun and a verb. It encompasses words and speech. There’s the message we want to deliver, and then there’s the expression of that message. It’s about having a voice and about giving voice. To Find Your Voice you must engage in two essentials: Clarify your values, Express your self. To become a credible leader, first you have to comprehend fully the values, beliefs, and assumptions that drive you. You have to freely and honestly choose the principles you will use to guide your actions. Before you can clearly communicate your message, you must be clear about the message you want to deliver. And before you can do what you say, you must be sure that you mean what you say. Second, you have to genuinely express your self. The words themselves aren’t enough, no matter how noble. You must authentically communicate your beliefs in ways that uniquely represent who you are. You must interpret the lyrics and shape them into your own singular presentation so that Others recognize that you’re the one who’s speaking and not someone else.”

12- “Values influence every aspect of our lives: our moral judgments, our responses to others, our commitments to personal and organizational goals…Values also serve as guides to action. They inform our decisions as to what to do and what not to do; when to say yes, or no, and really understand why we mean it…Values are empowering. We are much more in control of our own lives when we’re clear about our personal values. When values are clear we don’t have to rely upon direction from someone in authority…Values also motivate. They keen us focused on why we’re doing what we’re doing and the ends toward which we’re striving. Values are the banners that fly as we persist, as we struggle, as we toil.”

13- “People want to be part of something larger than themselves. What we’re savings is this: people cannot fully commit to an organization or a movement that does not fit with their own beliefs. Leaders must pay as much attention to personal values as they do to organizational values if they want dedicated constituents.”

14- “The Three Stages of Self-Expression: Finding one’s voice and finding one’s unique way of expressing the self is something that every artist understands, and every artist knows that finding a voice is most definitely not a matter of technique. It’s a matter of time and a matter of searching—soul-searching…When first learning to lead, we paint what we see outside ourselves—the exterior landscape. We read biographies and autobiographies about famous leaders. We observe master models and ask the advice of mentors. We read books and listen to audiotapes by experienced executives. We participate in training programs. We take on job assignments so that we can work alongside someone who can coach us. We want to learn everything we can from Others, and we often try to copy their style…Somewhere along the way, you’ll notice that your speech sounds mechanically wrote, that your meetings are a boring routine, and that your interactions feel terribly sad and empty. You’ll awaken to the frightening thought that the words aren’t yours, that the vocabulary is someone else’s, that the technique is right out of the text but not straight from the heart. While you’ve invested so much time and energy in learning to do all the right things, you suddenly see that they’re no longer serving you well. The methods seem hollow. You may even feel like a phony…If, as David did, you’re fortunate enough to experience an integrative turning point in your development—a point where you’re able to merge the lessons from your outer and inner journeys—you move on to becoming an authentic leader, in whatever field you’ve chosen for yourself. You’re able to recognize your own voice from the multitude of other voices ringing in your ears, and you find ways to express yourself in a singular style. You become the author of your own experience.”

15- “There are five essential aspects to their behavior and actions that leaders need to be conscious about in their efforts to align shared values through the example of the actions they take: 1) Calendars, 2) Critical incidents, 3) Stories, analogies, and metaphors 4) Language 5) Measurements.”

16- “Create alignment around key values. Researchers have demonstrated that there are three central themes in the values of highly successful, strong-culture organizations: High performance standards. A caring attitude toward people. A sense of uniqueness and pride.”

17- “When we feel passionately about the legacy we want to leave, about the kind of future world we want for ourselves and for others, then we are much more likely to voluntarily step forward. If we don’t have the slightest clue about our hopes, dreams, and aspirations, then the chance that we’ll take the lead is significantly less. In fact, we may not even see the opportunity that’s right in front of us.”

18- “At the beginning what leaders have is a theme. They have concerns, desires. questions, propositions, arguments, hopes, dreams, and aspirations—core concepts around which they organize their aspirations and actions. Leaders begin the process of Envisioning the Future by discovering their own themes. Everything else leaders say about their vision is an elaboration, interpretation. and variation on that theme. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your ability to articulate your own themes and ultimately your visions of the future. Express Your Passion…Explore Your Past…Pay Attention to Your Experiences…Immerse Yourself.”

19- “Leaders are possibility thinkers, not probability thinkers. Probabilities must be based upon evidence strong enough to establish presumption. Possibilities are not. All new ventures begin with possibility thinking, not probability thinking. After all, the probability is that most new businesses will fail and most social reforms will never get off the ground. If entrepreneurs or activists accepted this view, however, they’d never start a new business or organize a community. Instead, they begin with the assumption that anything is possible. Like entrepreneurs and other activists, leaders assume that anything is possible. It’s this belief that sustains them through the difficult times.”

20- “Whether they’re trying to mobilize a crowd in the grandstand or one person in the office, leaders must practice these three essentials to Enlist Others: Listen deeply to others. Discover and appeal to a common purpose. Give life to a vision by communicating expressively, so that people can see themselves in it.”

21- “If you want to create a climate that sustains personal-best leadership experiences, what situations would you look for? What context would most likely offer the right conditions? What leadership actions are required to establish a culture that is characterized by challenge, energy, excitement. determination, inspiration, and innovation? It’s already clear that you need shared values and a shared vision. What else? To Search for Opportunities to get extraordinary things done, leaders make use of four essentials: Seize the initiative. Make challenge meaningful. Innovate and create. Look outward for fresh ideas. Leaders take charge of change. They instill a sense of adventure in others, they look for ways to radically alter the status quo, and they continuously scan the outside environment for new and fresh ideas. Leaders always search for opportunities for ways to do what has never been done.”

22- “Leaders raise the bar gradually and offer coaching and training to build skills that help people get over each new level…They challenge people, sometimes to their very cores—and participants come out changed and ready to take on new risks and experiments…In this endeavor, Reno and Randi demonstrate, as do all exemplary leaders, the need to: Initiate incremental steps and small wins. Learn from mistakes. Promote psychological hardiness.”

23- “High-stress/low-illness executives made these assumptions about themselves in interaction with the world: 1- They felt a strong sense of control believing that they could beneficially influence the direction and outcome of what was going on around them through their own efforts. Lapsing into powerlessness, feeling like a victim of circumstances, and passivity seemed like a waste of time to them. 2- They were strong in commitment, believing that they could find something important, or worthwhile. They were curious about what was going on around them, and this led them to find interactions with people and situations stimulating and meaningful. They were unlikely to engage in denial or feel disengaged, bored, and empty. 3- They felt strong in challenge, believing that personal improvement and fulfillment came through the continual process of learning from both negative and positive experiences. They felt that it was not only unrealistic but also stultifying to simply expect, or even wish for, easy comfort and security.”

24- “Turbulence in the marketplace, it turns out, requires more collaboration, not less. Collaboration is the critical competency for achieving and sustaining high performance—especially in the Internet Age!..Indeed, world-class performances aren’t possible unless there’s a strong sense of shared creation and shared responsibility. To Foster Collaboration, leaders are essential who can skillfully: Create a climate of trust. Facilitate positive interdependence. Support face-to-face interactions.”

25- “To put it quite simply, trust is the most significant predictor of Individuals’ satisfaction with their organizations. When leaders create a climate of trust, they take away the controls and allow people to be free to innovate and contribute. Trusting leaders nurture openness, involvement, personal satisfaction, and high levels of commitment to excellence. Be Open to Influence…Make Yourself Vulnerable…Listen, Listen, Listen.”

26- “Creating a climate where people are involved and important is at the heart of strengthening others. People must have the latitude to make decisions based on what they believe should be done. They must work in an environment that both builds their ability to perform a task or complete an assignment and promotes a sense of self-confidence in their judgment. People must experience a sense of personal accountability so that they can feel ownership for their achievements. We’ve identified four leadership essentials to Strengthen Others: Ensure self-leadership. Provide choice. Develop competence and confidence. Foster accountability.”

27- “Exemplary leaders understand this need to Recognize Contributions and are constantly engaged in these essentials: Focus on clear standards. Expect the best. Pay attention. Personalize recognition.”

28- “Leaders are out there for a reason. One of the reasons, we would maintain, is to show that you care. One way of showing you care is to pay attention to people, to what they are doing, and to how they are feeling. And if you are clear about the standards you’re looking for and you believe and expect that people will perform like winners, then you’re going to notice lots of examples of people doing things right and doing the right things. In contrast, what happens in organizations where managers are constantly on the lookout for problems? Three things: managers get a distorted view of reality; over time, production declines; and the managers’ personal liability hits bottom. Wandering around with an eye for trouble is likely to get you just that. More trouble.”

29- “When we’re open we make ourselves vulnerable—and this vulnerability makes us more human and more trusted. If neither person in a relationship takes the risk of trusting, at least a little, the relationship remains stalled at a low-level of caution and suspicion. If leaders want the higher levels of performance that come with trust and collaboration, then they must demonstrate their trust in others before asking for trust from others. As discussed in Chapter Nine, when it comes to trust, leaders ante up first.”

30- “If leaders are to effectively Celebrate the Values and Victories, they must master these three essentials: Create a spirit of community. Tell the story. Set the example. By bringing people together, sharing the lessons from success, and getting personally involved, leaders reinforce in others the courage required to get extraordinary things done in organizations.”

31- “Stories put a human face on success. They tell us that someone just like us can make it happen. They create organizational role models that everyone can relate to. They put the behavior in a real context. They make standards more than statistics; they make standards come alive. By telling a story in detail, leaders illustrate what everyone needs to do to live by the organizational standards.”

32- “The process of development should never be intrusive. It should never be about just filling someone full of facts or skills. It won’t work. Education should always be liberating. It should be about releasing what is already inside. The quest for leadership is first an inner quest to discover who you are. Through self-development comes the confidence needed to lead. Self-confidence is really awareness of and faith in your own powers. These powers become clear and strong only as you work to identify and develop them. Learning to lead is about discovering what you care about and value. About what inspires you. About what challenges you. About what gives you power and competence. About what encourages you. When you discover these things about yourself, you’ll know what it takes to lead those qualities out of others. Sure, we’ve said already that every leader has to learn the fundamentals and the discipline, and to a certain extent there’s some period during which you’re trying out a lot of new things. It’s a necessary stage in your development as a leader. The point is you have to take what’s been acquired and reshape into your own expression of yourself.Sometimes liberation is as uncomfortable as intrusion, but in the end when you discover it for yourself you know that what’s inside is what you put there and what belongs there. It’s not something put inside you by someone else; it’s what you discover for yourself.”

33- “Leadership practices per se are amoral. But leaders—the men and women who use the practices—are moral or immoral. There’s an ethical dimension to leadership that neither leaders nor constituents should take lightly. This is why we began our discussion of leadership practices with a focus on finding your voice—your authentic self grounded in a set of values and ideals. These, you have to find for yourself and test against others. There are. according to the late John Gardner, Stanford professor, secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Johnson administration, and founder of Common Cause, four moral goals of leadership: Releasing human potential. Balancing the needs of the individual and the community. Defending the fundamental values of the community. Instilling in individuals a sense of initiative and responsibility Attending to these goals will always direct your eyes to higher purposes. As you work to become all you can be, you can start to let go of your petty self-interests. As you give back some of what you’ve been given, you can reconstruct your community. As you serve the values of freedom, justice, equality, caring, and dignity, you can constantly renew the foundations of democracy. As each of us takes individual responsibility for creating the world of our dreams, we can all participate in leading.”

34- “Humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership. You can avoid excessive pride only if you recognize that you’re human and need the help of others.”

35- “Of all the things that sustain a leader over time, love is the most lasting. It’s hard to imagine leaders getting up day after day, putting in the long hours and hard work it takes to get extraordinary things done, without having their hearts in it. The best-kept secret of successful leaders is love: staying in love with leading, with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with those who honor the organization by using its work. Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”


Omar Halabieh

The Leadership Challenge

On Influencer

I recently finished reading Influencer – The Power To Change Anything – by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “The promise of this book is that almost all the profound, pervasive, and persistent problems we face in our lives, our companies, and our world can be solved. They can be solved because these problems don’t require solutions that defy the laws of nature; they require people to act differently. And while it’s true that most of us aren’t all that skilled at getting ourselves and others to behave differently, there are experts out there who do it all the time.”

2- “Since our ineffectiveness at influencing others stems from a simple inability rather than a character flaw or lack of motivation, the solution lies in continued learning;. We can become powerful influencers. We don’t have to wait for everyone else to miraculously change. We won’t have to constantly seek serenity.”

3- “Before you can influence change, you have to decide to focus on behaviors. They’re universally firm on this point. They don’t dive into developing influence strategies until they’ve carefully identified the behaviors they want to influence. And now for the big idea: A few behaviors can drive a lot of change. The breakthrough discovery of most influence geniuses is that enormous influence comes from focusing on just a few vital behaviors.”

4- “Search for Behaviors. Take care to ensure that you’re searching for strategies that focus on behavior. Don’t let experts pass off outcomes as behaviors…Search for Vital Behaviors. Master influencers know that a few behaviors can drive big change. They look carefully for the vital behaviors that create a cascade of change. No matter the size of the problem, if you dilute your efforts across dozens of behaviors, you’ll never reach critical mass…Search for Recovery Behaviors. People make mistakes, and yet some find a way to quickly get back on track rather than sink further into despair…Test Your Results. Finally, if you’ve conducted your own research and found candidates for what you think are high leverage vital behaviors, test your ideas. Implement the proposed actions and see if they yield the results you want. Don’t merely measure the presence or absence of the vital behaviors; also check to see whether the results you want are happening.”

5- “The great persuader is personal experience.”

6- “CHANGING MINDS…People will attempt to change their behavior if (1) they believe it will be worth it, and (2) they can do what is required. Instill these two views, and individuals will at least try to enact a new behavior nr perhaps stop an old one. To change one or both of these views, most people rely on verbal persuasion. Talk is easy, and it works a great deal of the time. However, with persistent and resistant problems, talk has very likely failed in the past. and it’s time to help individuals experience for themselves the and it’s time to help individuals experience for themselves the benefits of the proposed behavior. It’s time for a field trip. When it’s impossible to create an actual experience, it’s best to create a vicarious experience. For most of us, that means we’ll make use of a well-told story. Stories provide every person, no matter how limited his or her resources, with an influence tool that is both immediately accessible and enormously powerful. Poignant narratives help is being spoken and into the experience itself Because they create vivid images and provide concrete detail, stories are more understandable than terse lectures. Because they focus on the simple reality of an actual event, stories are often more credible than simple statements of fact. Finally, as listeners dive into the narrative and suspend disbelief, stories create an empathic reaction that feels just as real as enacting the behavior themselves. Tell the whole story. Make sure that the narrative you’re employing contains a clear link between the current behaviors and existing (or possibly future) negative results. Also make sure that the story includes positive replacement behaviors that yield new and better results. Remember, stories need to deal with both “Will it be worth it?” and “Can I do it?” When it comes to changing behavior, nothing else matters.”

7- “With the new question, Miller discovered that the best way to help individuals reconnect their existing unhealthy behaviors to their long-term values was to stop trying to control their thoughts and behaviors. You must replace judgment with empathy, and lectures with questions. If you do so, you gain influence. The instant you stop trying to impose your agenda on others, you eliminate the fight for control. You sidestep irrelevant battles over whose view of the world is correct.”

8- “INTRINSIC SATISFACTION: Helping people extract intrinsic satisfaction from the right behavior or feel displeasure with the wrong behavior often calls for several influence strategies. With individuals who believe that the required behaviors won’t be pleasurable, simply immerse them in the activity…As you experiment with new actions, focus on the sense of accomplishment associated with the result. Revel in achieving for the sake of achieving. Tap into people’s sense of pride and competition. And when it comes to long-term achievement. link into people’s view of who they want to be…When dealing with activities that are rarely satisfying or unhealthy activities that are very satisfying, take the focus off the activity itself and reconnect the vital behavior to the person’s sense of values. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about the long-term values individuals are currently either supporting or violating…As people slip further into inappropriate behavior—even causing severe damage to themselves or others—help them reconnect their actions to their sense of morality by fighting moral disengagement. Don’t let people minimize or justify their behavior by transforming humans into statistics. Finally, when facing highly resistant people. don’t try to gain control over them by wowing them with logic and argument. Instead, talk with them about what they want. Allow them to discover on their own the links between their current behavior and what they really want.”

9- “PERSONAL ABILITY: When it comes to complex tasks that matter a great deal to you in your quest to resolve persistent problems, don’t suffer from arrested development. Demand more from yourself than the achievement levels you reach after minimal effort. Instead, set aside time to study and practice new and more vital behaviors. Devote attention to clear, specific, and repeatable actions. Ensure that the actions you’re pursuing are both recognizable and replicable. Then seek outside help. Insist on immediate feedback against clear standards. Break tasks into discrete actions, set goals for each, practice within a low-risk environment, and buffed in recovery strategies. Finally, make sure that you apply the same deliberate practice tactics to physical, intellectual, and even complex social skills. Many of the vital behaviors required to solve profound and persistent problems demand advanced interpersonal problem-solving skills that can be mastered only through well-researched, deliberate practice. With instinctive demands and quick emotional reactions. don’t let the “go” system take control from your “know” system unless you’re facing a legitimate risk to life and limb. To regain emotional control over your genetically wired responses, take the focus off your instinctive objective by carefully attending to distraction activities. Where possible, completely avoid the battle to delay gratification by making the difficult easy, the averse pleasant, and the boring interesting. When strong emotions take over because you’ve drawn harsh, negative conclusions about others, reappraise the situation by asking yourself complex questions that force your frontal lobe to wrest control away from the amygdala.”

10- “SOCIAL SUPPORT: People who are respected and connected can exert an enormous amount of influence over any change effort. Under stressful and ambiguous circumstances, the mere glance from what appears to be a respected official can be enough to propel people to act in ways that are hard to imagine. Fortunately, this “power of one” can also be used to encourage pro-social behavior. When a required behavior is difficult or unpopular or possibly even questionable, it often takes the support of “the right one”—an opinion leader—to propel people to embrace an innovation. Learn how to identify and co-opt these important people. Ignore opinion leaders at your own peril. Sometimes change efforts call for changes in widely shared norms. Almost everyone in a community has to talk openly about a proposed change in behavior before it can be safely embraced by anyone. This calls for public discourse. Detractors will often suggest that it’s inappropriate to hold such an open discourse, and they may even go so far as to suggest that the topic is undiscussable. Ignore those who seek silence instead of healthy dialogue. Make it safe to talk about high-stakes and controversial topics. Finally, some change efforts are so profound that they require the help of everyone involved to enable people to make the change. When breaking away from habits that are continually reinforced by a person’s existing social network, people must be plucked from their support structure and placed in a new network, one where virtually everyone in their new social circle supports and rewards the right behaviors while punishing the wrong.”

11- “SOCIAL ABILITY: In an interdependent, turbulent world, our biggest opponents—the mortal enemy of all families, companies, and communities—may well be our inability to work in concert. Since rarely does any one of us have all that’s required to succeed with the complex tasks we face every day, we desperately need to build social capital…Savvy influencers know better than to turn their backs on social capital. They’re quick to consider what help, authority. consent, or cooperation individuals may need when facing risky or daunting new behaviors. Then they develop an influence strategy that offers the social capital required to help make change inevitable.”

12- “REWARDS: Administering rewards and punishments can be a tricky business. Consequently, when you look at the extrinsic motivators you’re using to encourage or discourage behavior, take care to adhere to a few helpful principles. First, rely on personal and social motivators as your first line of attack. Let the value of the behavior itself, along with social motivators, carry the bulk of the motivational load. When you do c choose to employ extrinsic rewards, make sure that they are immediately linked to vital behaviors. Take care to link rewards to the specific actions you want to see repeated. When choosing rewards, don’t be afraid to draw on small, heartfelt tokens of appreciation. Remember, when it comes to extrinsic rewards, less is often more. Do your best to reward behaviors and not merely outcomes. Sometimes outcomes hide inappropriate behaviors. Finally, if you end up having to administer punishment, first take a shot across the bow. Let people know what’s coming before you drop the hammer.”

13- “CHANGE THE ENVIRONMENT: When it comes to developing a change strategy, we just don’t think about things as our first line of influence. Given that things are far easier to change than people, and that these things can then have a permanent impact on how people behave, it’s high time we pick up on the lead of Whyte, Steele, Wansink, and others and add the power of the environment to our influence repertoire. And who knows? Someday an everyday person may even be able to say the word propinquity in public without drawing snickers.”


Omar Halabieh


On Peak

I recently finished reading Peak – How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow – by Chip Conley.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “This book is about the miracle of human potential: employees living up to their full potential in the workplace, customers feeling the potential bliss associated with having their unrecognized needs met, and investors feeling fulfilled by seeing the potential of their capital leveraged.”

2- “Maslow’s message struck a chord with many business leaders. In essence, he said that with humans, there’s a qualitative difference between not being sick and feeling healthy or truly alive. This idea could be applied to companies, most of which fall into the middle ground of not sick but not truly alive. Based on his Hierarchy of Needs, the solution for a company that wants to ascend up the healthy pyramid is not just to diminish the negative or to get too preoccupied with basic needs but instead to focus on aspirational needs. This idea is rather blasphemous for some. The tendency in psychology and in business has always been to focus on the deficits. Psychologists and business consultants look for what’s broken and try to fix it. Yet, “fixing it” doesn’t necessarily offer the opportunity for transformation to a more optimal state of being or productivity.”

3- “1. Every company is organized based on a certain premise of human nature. 2. Most companies aren’t very conscious of this fact and operate based on an outdated or short-term perspective, even though sustainable results might be better served by a different business approach. 3. Companies have a habitual “tendency toward the tangible,” which means that financial results usually get more attention than relationship issues. 4. More and more business scholars and consultants are making the intangible of relationships and the human spirit more tangible, and many successful companies are leading the way with respect to how they reorganize themselves to pursue both profits and happiness.”

4- “The Employee Pyramid: Money (Survival) – Creates base motivation, Recognition (Success) – Creates Loyalty, Meaning (Transformation) – Creates Inspiration.”

5- “The Customer Pyramid: Meets Expectations (Survival) – Creates satisfaction, Meets Desires (Success) – Creates commitment, Meets Unrecognized Needs (Transformation) – Evangelism.”

6- “The Investor Pyramid: Transaction Alignment (Survival) – Creates trust, Relationship Alignment (Success) – Creates Confidence, Legacy (Transformation) – Creates Pride and Ownership.”

7- “Finding meaning in one’s work—both in what you do daily d in the company’s sense of mission—is one of the rarest but most valuable qualities anyone can have in their job.”

8- “In reading Frankl’s book and in studying dozens of meaning-driven companies, I’ve come to realize that workplace meaning can be dissected into meaning at work and meaning in work. Meaning at work relates to how an employee feels about the company, their work environment, and the company’s mission. Meaning in work relates to how an employee feels about their specific job task. Pollard captures the potential synergy of this dichotomy with the following passage from his book, “As a person sees a reason for the task that is personally satisfying and rewarding and has the confidence that the mission of the firm is in alignment with his or her own personal growth and development, a powerful force is unleashed that results in creativity, productivity, service quality, growth, profit, and value.””

9- “Ironically, the two common elements that define companies that deliver on this level of the pyramid seem diametrically opposed to each other: technology (hard) and people (soft). Companies that know how to harness their technology and empower their people have the potential to deliver customized service that will translate into committed customers.”

10- “Buffett represents a growing set of business leaders who believe that “companies obtain the shareholder constituency diat tiiey seek and deserve.” He suggests that if companies “focus their thinking and communications on short-term results or short-term stock market consequences they will, in lar^e part, attract shareholders who focus on the same factors.” In other words, just understanding your business plan isn’t enough for business leaders. You need to also understand the motivations of your investors to ensure they’re aligned with your own.”

11- “If there’s one constant theme in all three pyramids, it’s t conventional wisdom is wrong. Conventional wisdom suggests that (1) money is the primary motivator for employees, (2) customers stay loyal when they’re satisfied, and (3) investors are exclusively focused on the financial return on investment. As we’ve seen, these are simply base needs that ignore higher human needs. At the peak of the Investor Pyramid, it’s ultimately a legacy, not liquidity, that people seek.”

12- “As a guide, I often refer them to the Transformation Pyramid we discussed in Chapter Two. Take a look at whether this activity or priority is a survival need (something that will help provide basic sustenance or comfort), a success need (something that will enhance the performance or experience), or a transformation need (something less predictable, more intangible, and ultimately, most satisfying or memorable). My number one recommendation for those who are using a pyramid to define their peak experience is to make sure you are climbing the right mountain. A midlife crisis is perhaps the natural result of someone realizing they’ve perhaps climbed the wrong peak.”

13- “The base needs are typically “has” needs: what material things we want in our life to give us safety, comfort, pleasure, or status. As humans and societies age, they move beyond the “has” to the “does” needs. As our material needs are met, what one does for a living becomes a more relevant symbol of our identity. At some point, relentless “doing” no longer carries currency, at which point the “is” needs predominate at the peak of the pyramid. You see this in wise men and women and in cultures that have learned that having and doing carry you only so far. When someone or something just “is,” it feels pure, essential, powerful, and magnetic. There is a strong sense of presence that accompanies this state of being.”


Omar Halabieh


On The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

I recently finished reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “In this first section, ‘Losses’, the most important case, to my mind, is that of a special form of visual agnosia: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’. I believe it to be of fundamental importance. Such cases constitute a radical challenge to one of importance. Such cases constitute a radical challenge to one of the most entrenched axioms or assumptions of classical neurology—in particular, the notion that brain damage, any brain damage, reduces or removes the ‘abstract and categorical attitude’ (in Kurt Goldstein’s term), reducing the individual to the emotional and concrete. (A very similar thesis was made by Hughlings Jack son in the 1860s.) Here, in the case of Dr P., we see the very opposite of this—a man who has (albeit only in the sphere of the visual) wholly lost the emotional, the concrete, the personal, the visual) wholly lost the emotional, the concrete, the personal, the ‘real’ . . . and been reduced, as it were, to the abstract and the categorical, with consequences of a particularly preposterous kind.”

2- “It wasn’t merely that he displayed the same indifference to the visual world as a computer but—even more strikingly—he construed the world as a computer construes it, by means of key features and schematic relationships. The scheme might be identified—in an ‘identi-kit’ way—^without the reality being grasped at all.”

3- “You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realise that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all . . , Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing … (I can only wait for the final amnesia, the one that can erase an entire life, as it did my mother’s . . .) -Luis Bunuel”

4- “The blind, at least, are treated with solicitude—we can imagine their state, and we treat them accordingly. But when Christina, painfully, clumsily, mounts a bus, she receives nothing but uncomprehending and angry snarls: ‘What’s wrong with you. lady? Are you blind—or blind-drunk?’ What can she answer—’I have no proprioception’? The lack of social support and sympathy is an additional trial: disabled, but with the nature of her disability not clear—she is not, after all, manifestly blind or paralysed, manifestly anything—she tends to be treated as a phoney or a fool. This is what happens to those with disorders of the hidden senses (it happens also to patients who have vestibular impairment, or who have been labyrinthectomised).”

5- “We have five senses in which we glory and which we recognise and celebrate, senses that constitute the sensible world for us. Bu there are other senses—secret senses, sixth senses, if you will— equally vital, but unrecognised, and unlauded. These senses, unequally vital, but unrecognised, and unlauded. These senses, unconscious, automatic, had to be discovered. Historically, indeed their discovery came late: what the Victorians vaguely called ‘muscle sense’—the awareness of the relative position of trunk and limbs, derived from receptors in the joints and tendons—was only limbs, derived from receptors in the joints and tendons—was oi really defined (and named ‘proprioception’) in the 1890s. And the complex mechanisms and controls by which our bodies are properly aligned and balanced in space—these have only been defined in our own century, and still hold many mysteries. Perhaps it will only be in this space age, with the paradoxical license and hazards of gravity-free life, that we will truly appreciate our inner ears, our vestibules and all the other obscure receptors and reflexes that govern our body orientation. For normal man, in normal situations, they simply do not exist.”

6- “When the neglect is severe, the patient may behave almost as if one half of the universe had abruptly ceased to exist in any meaningful form. . . . Patients with unilateral neglect behave not only as if nothing were actually happening in the left hemispace, but also as if nothing of any importance could be expected to occur there.”

7- “To be ourselves we must have ourselves—possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must ‘recollect’ ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.”

8- “Because speech—natural speech—does not consist of words alone, nor (as Hughlings Jackson thought) ‘propositions’ alone. It consists of utterance—an uttering-forth of one’s whole meaning with one’s whole being—the understanding of which involves infinitely more than mere word-recognition. And this was the clue to aphasiacs’ understanding, even when they might be wholly uncomprehending of words as such. For though the words. the verbal constructions, per se, might convey nothing, spoken language is normally suffused with ‘tone’, embedded in an expressiveness which transcends the verbal—and it is precisely this expressiveness, so deep, so various, so complex, so subtle, which is perfectly preserved in aphasia, though understanding of words be destroyed. Preserved—and often more: preternaturally enhanced.”

9- “All the transports described in this section do have more or less clear organic determinants (though it was not evident too begin with, but required careful investigation to bring out). This does not detract in the least from their psychological or spiritual significance. If God, or the eternal order, was revealed to Dostoievski in seizures, why should not other organic conditions serve as ‘portals’ to the beyond or the unknown? In a sense, this section is a Study of such portals.”

10- “Experience is not possible until it is organised iconicalilly; action is not possible unless it is organised iconically. ‘The brain’s record’ of everything—everything alive—must be iconic. This is the final form of the brain’s record, even though the preliminary form may be computational or programmatic. The final form of cerebral representation must be, or allow, ‘art’—the artful scenery^ and melody of experience and action.”

11- “By a sort of inversion, or subversion, of the natural order of things, concreteness is often seen by neurologists as a v wretched thing, beneath consideration, incoherent, regressed. Thus for Kurt Goldstein, the greatest systematiser of his generation, the mind, man’s glory, lies wholly in the abstract and categoricical, and the effect of brain damage, any and all brain damage, is to cast him out from this high realm into the almost subhuman swamplands of the concrete. If a man loses the ‘abstract-categorical attitude’ (Goldstein), or ‘propositional thought’ (Hughlings Jackson), what remains is subhuman, of no moment or interest. I call this an inversion because the concrete is elemental—it is what makes reality ‘real’, alive, personal and meaningful.”


Omar Halabieh

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

On Outliers

I recently finished reading Outliers – The Story of Success – by Malcolm Gladwell.

The main premise of the book, as outlined by Malcom is: “In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is mainly by asking where they dire from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Wolf and Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn’t be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual’s personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were, and what town their families came from. They had to appreciate the idea that the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are. In Outliers I want to do for our understanding of success what Stewart Wolf did for our understanding of health.”

2- “Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”

3- “We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit. But there’s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple. These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society. Their success was not just of their own making. It was a product of the world in which they grew up.”

4- “The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real-world advantage.”

5- “Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying…Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful.”

6- “So far in Outliers we’ve seen that success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you are born, what your parents did tor a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world. The question for the second part of Outliers is whether the traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears can play the same role. Can we learn something about why people succeed and how to make people better at what they do by taking cultural legacies seriously? 1 think we can.”

7- “Each of us has his or her own distinct personality. But overlaid on top of that are tendencies and assumptions and reflexes handed down to us by the history of the community we grew up in, and those differences are extraordinarily specific.”

8- “The lesson here is very simple. But it is striking how ten it is overlooked. We are so caught in the myths ot the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that thirteen-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one thirteen-year-old unlimited access to a timesharing terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today? To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success—the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history—with a society that provides opportunities for all.”

9- “Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don’t. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky—but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”


Omar Halabieh


On The Four Pillar of Investing

I recently finished reading The Four Pillars of Investing – Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio –  by William Bernstein.

As the title suggests, the author presents within this book four essential pillars of successful investing. Each section of the book is then dedicated to investigating and detailing each of these pillars and they are: 1) Theory 2) History 3) Psychology and 4) Business. The first section on theory, is one which the author calls “the most important part of the book”. In his words it “surveys the awesome body of theory and data relevant to everyday investing”. This section centers itself around the “fundamental characteristic of any investment is that its return and risk go hand in hand.” The second section on History postulates that “an understanding of financial history provides an additional dimension of expertise.” The third section, Psychology,  is one in which the author surveys the area of “behavioral finance”. Where one “learns how to avoid the most common behavioral  mistakes and to confront your own dysfunctional investment behavior.” Last but not least the last section – Business – exposes how “the modern financial services industry is designed solely to serve itself.”

What sets this book apart from other investing books is the breadth of areas covered, and also the writing style which is both “understandable and entertaining”. A highly recommended read for any investor regardless of level.

Below are key excerpts from the book, that I found particularly insightful:

1) “The highest returns are obtained by shouldering prudent risk when things look the bleakest.”

2) “Most small investors naturally assume that good companies are good stocks, when the opposite is usually true.”

3) “Sine you cannot successfully time the market or select individual stocks, asset allocation should be the major focus of your investment strategy. because it is the only factor affecting your investment risk and return that you can control.”

4) “Bubbles occur whenever investors begin buying stocks simply because they have been going up.”

5) “Buying assets that everyone else has been running from takes more fortitude than most investors can manage. But if you are equal to the task, you will be rewarded.”

6) “There are really two behavioral errors operating in the overconfidence playground. The first is the “compartmentalization” of success and failure. We tend to remember those activities, or areas of our portfolios, in which we succeeded an forget about those areas where we didn’t…The second is that its far more agreeable to ascribe success to skill than to luck.”

7) “By indexing, you are tapping into the most powerful intelligence in the world of finance – the collective wisdom of the market itself.”

8) “Rebalancing forces you to be a contrarian – someone who does the opposite of what everyone else is doing. Financial contrarians tend to be wealthier than folks who like to simply follow the crowd.”

9) “Risk and return are inextricably enmeshed. Do not expect high returns without frightening risks, and if you desire safety, you must accept low returns.”

10) “This book should be seen as a framework to which you’ll be continuously adding knowledge.”

11) “The overarching message of this book is at once powerful and simple: With relatively little effort, you can design and assemble an investment portfolio that, because of its wide diversification and minimal expense, will prove superior to most professionally managed accounts.”


Omar Halabieh

The Four Pillars of Investing