May 8, 2016

Presence by Amy Cuddy

Presence by Amy Cuddy
Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges

Have you ever left a nerve-racking challenge and immediately wished for a do-over? When we walk into a high pressure situation in that frame of mind, we are condemned to leave it feeling bad. The very moments that require us to be genuine and commanding can instead cause us to feel phony and powerless. Too often we approach our lives’ biggest hurdles with dread, execute them with anxiety and leave them with regret.

By accessing our personal power, we can achieve ‘presence’ the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we are making on others and instead adjust the impression we have been making for ourselves.

Next time you are faced with one of these tense moments, imagine approaching it with confidence and excitement instead of doubt and dread. Imagine feeling energized and at ease while you are there, liberated from your fears about how others might be judging you.

After meticulously analyzing videos of 185 venture capital presentations - looking for both verbal and nonverbal behavior - Lakshmi Balachandra ended up with results: the strongest predictors of who got the money were these traits: confidence, comfort level and passionate enthusiasm. It came through mostly in nonverbal ways - vocal qualities, gestures, facial expressions and so on.

Social psychology had amassed a great deal of evidence that humans persistently make biased decisions on minimal, misleading and misunderstood first impressions. The first impressions based on the qualities of enthusiasm, passion and confidence might actually be quite sound - precisely because they are so hard to fake. When you are not present, people can tell. When you are, people respond.

Presence is removing judgment, walls, and masks so as to create a true and deep connection with people or experiences - Pam, Washington State

Presence is loving people around you and enjoying what you do for them - Anonymous, Croatia

Presence is being myself, and keeping confident, whatever happens - Abdelghani, Morocco.

As the blogger Maria Popova has written, “This concept of presence is rooted in Eastern notions of mindfulness - the ability to go through life with crystalline awareness [to] fully inhabit our experience”. “ The root of our human frustration and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future, which is an abreaction and that our primary mode of relinquishing presence is by leaving the body and retreating into the mind - that ever-calculating, self-evaluating, seething cauldron of thoughts, prediction, anxieties, judgments and incessant meta-experiences about experience itself”.

Presence as I mean it throughout these pages is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential. When we are present, our speech, facial expressions, postures and movements align. They synchronies and focus.

Not only are introverts every bit as likely as extroverts to demonstrate resonant presence, but research conducted in the last decade has also overwhelmingly shown us that introverts tend to have qualities that very effectively facilitate leadership and entrepreneurship, such as the capacity to focus for long periods of time, a greater resistance to the kinds of decision-making biases that can doom entire organizations: less need for external validation of their self-concepts and stronger listening, observing and synthesizing skills.

Focus less on the impression you are making on others and more on the impression you are making on yourself. The later serves the former.

Following are the summary of observations I’ve collected from many successful venture capitalist over the years:

  1. I’m watching out for clues that let me know they don’t completely buy what they are selling. If they don’t buy what they are selling, I don’t buy what they are selling
  2. They are trying too hard to make a good impression on me when they should be showing me how much they care about this idea that they are pitching
  3. They are too high energy and aggressive, may be a little pushy. It seems defensive. I don’t expect them to have all the answers. Actually I don’t want them to have all the answers
  4. I don’t mind if they are bit nervous; they are doing something big, something that matters to them, so it makes sense they’d be a little bit nervous.

Anxiety gets sticky and destructive when we start becoming anxious about being anxious. Paradoxically, anxiety also make us more self-centered, since when are acutely anxious, we obsess over ourselves and what others think of us.

The self is:
  1. Multifaceted, not singular
  2. Expressed and reflected through our thoughts, feelings values and behaviors
  3. Dynamic and flexible, not static and rigid.

In a recent study of narrative identity - how we make sense of the events of our lives - researcher tracked the subjects’ (people in their 50s, & 60s, - a period of life that tends to be marked by family, work and health transition and a time when reflect deeply on our lives) psychological and physical health over a period of four years. Four narrative themes emerged from the way people told their life stories:
  • Agency (people felt they were in control of their lives)
  • Communion (people described their lives as being about relationship)
  • Redemption (people felt that challenges had improved their attitudes or conferred wisdom in some way)
  • Contamination (people felt that positive beginnings had turned toward negative endings.

Those whose narrative fell into the three positive categories - agency, communion and redemption - experienced significant positive mental health trajectories in the following years-

As per William Kahn, identified four critical dimensions for presence in workplace: a person must be attentive, connected, integrated and focused.

The key to presence is relaxation. Preparation is obviously important, but at some point, you must stop preparing content and start preparing mind-set. You have to shift from what you will say to how you will say it.

As per Oscar Ybarra, people process words related to warmth and morality (friendly, honest, and others) faster than words related to competence (creative, skillful and others).

Asking for help from managers will make them look weak and incompetent, when in fact asking for feedback from a manager or college would give them a chance to interact, show respect and becomes part of the group.

Students who did internship in firms, but did not get permanent placement and the reason is not they show competence, but they did not seem to ‘play well with others’. They have not established any productive collaborations or relationships of trust.

When you listen to someone, it is the most profound act of human respect - William Ury.

When you stop talking, stop preaching and listen, here is what happens:

  • People can trust you
  • You acquire useful information
  • You begin to see others people as individuals and may be even allies
  • You develop solutions that other people are willing to accept and even adopt.
  • When people feel heard, they are more willing to listen

Power makes us approach and powerless makes us avoid.

Power affects our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and even physiology in fundamental ways that directly facilitate or obstruct our presence, our performance and the very course of our lives. When we are powerless, we cannot be present.

Personal power is characterized by freedom from the dominance of others. It is infinite as opposed to zero-sum - it is about access to and controls of limitless inner resources, such as our skills and abilities, our deeply held values, our true personalities, our boldest selves. Personal Power - not entirely unlike social power - make us more open, optimistic and risk tolerant and therefore more likely to notice and take advantage of opportunities.

Power can protect us
Power can connect us
Power can liberate our thinking
Power can synchronize us
Power can incite action
Power can make our actions more effective
Power affects our physiology

When people posses a strong belief that they will be able to perform the task at hand, they are more likely to perform it.

High testosterone and low cortisol are two great personal attribute for leadership skill.

Decisions create confidence - more decisions you make, more confident you will be.

Power poses were both expansive (meaning that the body took up a significant amount of space) and open (meaning that the limbs were held far away from the body).

Expanding your body language - through posture, movement, and speech - makes you feel more confident and powerful, less anxious and self-absorbed and generally more positive.

Expanding your body causes you to think about yourself in a positive light and to trust in that self-concept. It also clears your head, making space for creativity, cognitive persistence and abstract thinking.

Expanding your body physiologically prepares you to be present; it overrides your instinct to fight or feel, allowing you to be grounded, open and engaged.

Among people who’d imagined themselves holding high power poses, 70% used words that we called ‘comfortably confident’. They completed the statement “I feel .. “ with phrases that reflect their mental image of themselves:

Open and strong
Grounded and confident
Comfortable and poised
Grounded, confident and solid

Prepare for big poses:

  • Prepare by power posing first thing in the morning. Get out of the bed and practice a couple of your favorite poses for just couple of minutes

  • Pose in elevator, a bathroom stall , a stairwell

  • Don’t sit in waiting room, hunched over your phone, Stand and walk around instead
  • If you can’t strike a pose physically, do it mentally
  • If you are about to face a challenging situations and you have no other option but to sit, wrap your arms around the back of your chair and clasp your hands together. This forces you to open your shoulders and chest
  • If possible, arrive the location before your audience arrives. Get comfortable with occupying and expanding in the presentation space. Make the space yours so audience is coming to your home as opposed to you are going to theirs.

Present with good posture

  • While you are presenting on interacting, sit up or stand up straight
  • Keep your shoulders back and your chest open
  • Breathe slowly and deeply - remember how much power proper breathing can center us
  • Keep you chin up and level, but don't raise it so far up that you are looking down your nose at people.
  • When you are stationary, keep your feel grounded
  • When you can, move around (movement is more engaging - it allows you to occupy more space and inhabit more of them)
  • If the space allows, take a few steps, then pause in one spot as you continue speaking
  • Use props. If you don’t have big prop, use a little one: hold a glass of water of a laser pointer or a remote control - anything that will prevent you from collapsing your arms and clasping or wringing your hands.
  • Adopt open gestures: they are both strong and warm For example, when our arms are outstretched with palms  up, it is a welcoming and signals trust
  • Avoid ‘penguin arms.
  • Don’t take up physical space, take up temporal space
  • Pause - we often fail to harness the immense power of pause
  • Try relaxing the muscles of your throat so that your voice lowers to its natural level
  • If you make a mistake; if it happens, don’t allow yourself to collapse inward. Pull your shoulders back, unfurl and power up.

Mind your posture throughout the day

·         ·     Notice what is happening in the moments when you do begin to contract, collapse and disappear.
·         Set posture reminders for yourself
·         Organize the spaces in which you spend time in ways that facilitate good posture
·         If you tend to sleep in the fetal position, stretch in bed before you fall asleep
·         Combine power posing with daily routines
·         We are learning more and more about the many psychological and other health benefits of standing instead of sitting at work
·         Take breaks to walk around throughout the day
·         Seize the social opportunities you have to stretch out, such as going to the gym, running, taking yoga and dancing. Don’t waste opportunities to expand.

April 30, 2016

Originals by Adam Grant

Originals by Adam Grant
How nonconformists move the world

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” George Bernard Shaw

Four students who were buried in student loans, had lost their and broken their glasses and were outraged at how much it cost to replace them. They decided to go against Luxottica - 800-pound gorilla of the industry, that controlled more than 80% of the eyewear market ( . That was the beginning of Warby Parker - the online eyeglass company.

Years ago, psychologists discovered that there are two routes to achievement: conformity and originality. Conformity means following the crowd down conventional paths and maintaining the status quo. Originality is taking the road less travelled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better.

The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. Child prodigies, it turns out, rarely go on to change the world. While they have the intellectual chops, they must lack the social, emotional and practical skills to function in society. Less than a quarter of gifted children suffer from social and emotional problems. They conform to the codified rules of established games, rather than inventing their own rules or their own games. All along the way, they strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. Teachers tend to discriminate against highly creative students, labeling them as troublemakers. In response, many children quickly learn to get with the program, keeping their original idea to themselves. In the language of author William Deresiewicz, they become the world’s most excellent sheep.

The drive to succeed and the accompanying fear of failure have held back, some of the greatest creators and change agents in history. While they may seem to have possessed the qualities of natural leaders, they were figuratively lifted up by followers and peers.

The word ‘entrepreneur’ as it was coined by economist Richard Cantillon, literally means, “bearer of risk”. Successful people hedging the risk like any successful stock dealer. eBay founder started it as hobby while keeping his day job, T S Eliot kept his clerical work for many years while working on some of the classics, Bill Gates kept an option to go back to Harvard, if his business fails,...

If there are three risk options (1: making $5 million with 20% chance of success, 2: making $2million with a chance of 50% & 3: making $1.25 million with 80%), the entrepreneurs were significantly more likely to choose the last option, the safest one. However, in their teenage years, they were nearly three times as likely as their peers to break rules and engage in illicit activities.

The unique combination of broad and deep experience is critical for creativity. In a recent study comparing every Nobel Prize-winning scientist from 1901 to 2005, with typical scientists of the same era, the Nobel Prize winners were dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists. The odds for Nobel Prize winners relative to typical scientists: 22x greater for Nobel prize winners who were performing amateur actor, dancer and magician.

The most creative fashion collections came from houses where directors had the greatest experience abroad, but there were three twists. First, the time working abroad had an impact (being actively engaged in design in a foreign country)). Second, the more the foreign culture differed from that of their native land, the more that experience contributed to the director’s creativity. Third, the amount of time spent working abroad. The highest originality occurred when directors had spent 35 years working abroad.

To accurately predict the success of a novel idea, it is best to be creator in the domain you are judging (Both Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos had heavy instinct and willing to invest in Segway transporter business that did not become mainstream. Their instincts lacked domain knowledge in transportation business).

In a classic study, marketing researchers Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis compared the success of companies that were either pioneers or settlers. The pioneers were first movers: the initial company to develop or sell a product. The settlers were slower to launch, waiting until the pioneers had created a market before entering it. They found a staggering difference in failure rates: 47% of pioneers, compared with just 8% for settlers. Even when the pioneers did survive, they only captured an average of 10% of the market, compared with 38% for settlers.

When originals rush to be pioneers, they are prone to oversteps, that is the first disadvantage. Secondly, there is reason to believe that the kinds of people who choose to be late movers may be better suited to succeed. Risk takers are drawn to being first and they are prone to making impulse decisions. Meanwhile, more risk-averse entrepreneurs watch from the sidelines, waiting for the right opportunity and balancing their risk portfolios before entering. Third, along with being less reckless ambitious, settlers can improve upon competitors’ technology to make products better. Fourth, whereas pioneers tend to get stuck in their early offerings, settlers can observe market changes and shifting consumer tastes and adjust accordingly.

This hold true beyond the world of business, where many original people, ideas, and movements have failed because they were ahead of their time.

The time at which we reach our heights of originality and how long they last, depends on our styles of thinking. When Galenson studied creators, he discovered two radically different styles of innovation: conceptual and experimental. Conceptual innovators formulate a big idea and set out to execute it. Experimental innovators solve problems through trial and error, learning and evolving as they go along. According to Galenson, conceptual innovators are sprinters and experimental innovators are marathoners.

Movers and shapers: Shapers are independent thinks: curious, non-conforming and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk., because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing. The greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.

To counter apathy, most change agents focus on presenting an inspiring vision of the future. If you want people to take risks, you need first to show, what is wrong with the present. To drive people out of their comfort zones, you have to cultivate dissatisfaction, frustration or anger at the current state of affairs, making it a guaranteed loss. “The greatest communication of all time”, says communication expert Nancy Duarte, start by establishing “what is: here is the status quo”. Then they “compare that to what could be” making “that gap as big as possible”.

“Anger is a powerful mobilizing too” says Srdja Popovic  who was behind Serbia Otpor movement. “But if you make people angry, they might start breaking things. To channel anger productively, instead of venting about the harm that a perpetrator has done, we need to reflect on the victims who have suffered from it.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world”, E.B White wrote once. “This makes it difficult to plan the day”. In the quest for happiness, many of us choose to enjoy the world as it is. Originals embrace the uphill battle, striving to make the world what it could be. By struggling to improve life and liberty, they may temporarily give up some pleasure, putting their own happiness on the back burner. In the long run, though, they have the chance to create a better world. And that brings a different kind of pleasure / satisfaction. Becoming original is not the easiest path in the pursuit of happiness, but it leaves us perfectly poised for the happiness pursuit.

Individual actions:

A.      Generating and recognizing original ideas.
  1. Question the default
  2. Triple the number of ideas you generate
  3. Immerse yourself in a new domain
  4. Procrastinate strategically
  5. Seek more feedback from peers

B. Voicing and championing original ideas

  1. Balance your risk portfolio
  2. Highlight the reasons not to support your idea
  3. Make your ideas more familiar
  4. Speak to a different audience
  5. Be a tempered radical

C. Managing emotions

  1. Motivate yourself differently when you are committed vs. uncertain
  2. Don’t try to calm down
  3. Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator
  4. Realize you are not alone
  5. Remember that if you don’t take initiative, the status quo will persist

Leader Actions

A.      Sparking Original Ideas

  1. Run an innovation tournament
  2. Picture yourself as the enemy
  3. Invite employees from different functions and levels to pitch ideas
  4. Hold an opposite day
  5. Ban the words like love, and hate

B. Building cultures of originality

  1. Hire not an cultural fit, but on cultural contributions
  2. Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews
  3. Ask for problems, not solutions
  4. Stop assigning devil’s advocates and start unearthing them
  5. Welcome criticism

Parent and teacher actions

  1. Ask children what their role models would do
  2. Link good behaviors to more character
  3. Explain how bad behavior have consequence for others
  4. Emphasis values over rules
  5. Create novel niches for children to pursue

March 31, 2016

Tell to win by Peter Guber

Tell to win by Peter Guber
Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the hidden power of story.

Historically stories have always been ignites of action, moving people to do things.

  • Move your listener’s hearts and their feet and wallet will follow
  • Data dumps are not stories - dump them, don’t tell them
  • Story isn’t the icing on the cake, it is the cake
  • Don’t leave home without it... your story, that is.

Former dean of UCLA’s school of theater, who co-taught the course of navigating a Narrative World with the author, commented. “Stories put all the key facts into an emotional context. The information in a story doesn’t just sit there as it would in a logical proposition. Instead it is built to create response”. And the building block of all compelling stories, whether there are told in person, in the pages of a book, or via actors on a screen or monitor, are challenge, struggle and resolution.

Here is how you should build a story:

  • First, get your listener’s attention with an unexpected challenge or question
  • Next...give your listeners an emotional experience by narrating the struggle to overcome that challenge or to find the answer to the opening question.
  • Finally... galvanize your listeners’ response with an eye-opening resolution that calls them to action.

Siegel who co directs UCLA’s Mindsight Institute and author of books like ‘The developing Mind and the mindful brain’ broke down the essential sequence of surprise as ‘expectation+violation of expectation’. Narratives emerge from violations to expectations.

Challenge, struggle and resolution only give a story its shape. What is the fuel that propels the vehicle? The fuel - the emotional transportation - depends on four critical elements.

  1. True heroes are sympathetic and recognizable characters
  2. Drama gets your story moving
  3. You had me at ahhha
  4. The me-to-we factor

Why people are so enthralled by drama. Siegel pointed out that emotions don’t occur spontaneously and it has to be aroused. You have to have tension between expectation and uncertainty. Emotional tension drives you to think it might go this way, but it might go that way and that makes you wonder, what will happen next. The more you wonder what will happen next, the more you pay attention. And the more attention you pay, the more you hear, notice and retain.

  • A purposeful story is a call to action—be sure to make your call.
  • A story without structure leaves your goal unfulfilled.…
    • Craft the beginning to shine the light on your challenge or problem.
    • Shape the middle around the struggle to meet that challenge.
    • End with a resolution that ignites in the listener your call to action.

  • Get your audience to step into your hero’s shoes.
  • Lead from the heart, not the head.
  • Employ the element of surprise.
  • Successful stories turn “me” to “we”—align your interests!
  • Be sure your story tells what’s in it for them.
  • You’re not done till they say, “Ahha! I got it!”

As per Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, commented. “Narrative is an imperfect tool, but incredibly powerful”.

The impact of a story is intensified during oral telling because these cells are also turned on by the physical sounds, expressions, smells, and movements of the people in the room. Both teller and listener feel this mirror neuron effect. This two-way attunement of mirror neurons creates the optimal state for telling a story. The value added by attunement suggests a major advantage that business people lose when they communicate through documents and media presentations instead communicate through documents and media presentations instead of oral narrative.

Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, described the significance of story in a verbal equation: meaning + memory = knowledge-ability. Meaning, he said, emerges when we make connections between bits of information.

The people who read the stories in booklets or newsletters or watched them on video hardly mentioned them to their colleagues. This is not same as storytelling. The more the audience trusted the speaker, the more they trusted the authenticity of the telling and the greater its power to influence them. “It wasn’t the story that was having the impact,” Steve realized, “but oral storytelling.”

  • You’re pre wired for story, but you must turn it on!
  • The marketplace wants stories, so give them what they want.
  • Stories make facts and figures memorable, resonant, and actionable.
  • Ignite empathy in the room and face-to-face, and your audience won’t just hear you, they’ll feel you!
  • Purposeful storytelling isn’t show business, it’s good business.

“If the lion doesn’t tell his story, the hunter will” is an African saying.

  • Own your back-story so it doesn’t sabotage you when you tell your front story.
  • Be active in your own rescue; confront the stories that others are telling about you.
  • Leverage the back-story that rules your listener; it can be a powerful ally.

Whether you’re a CEO, salesperson, volunteer organizer, or small business owner, your listeners will never fully connect to you, buy into your proposition, or join your parade unless they can trust you. And only if they respect your motives and empathize with you as a fellow human being will they feel that trust. To tell a compelling story, then, you need to be authentic in your passion for your goal, and that passion needs to be congruent with your experience and commitment.

Authenticity is a powerful persuader. Whatever story you tell, if you are perceived to be authentic, your audience will hear you empathetically and be more likely to embrace your passion. When someone shows a genuine drive to overcome all obstacles, that’s compelling, because to succeed you have to have true conviction.

  • To tell a great story, make preparation your partner.
  • Demonstrate authenticity and congruence; they’re the rails on which your story rides.
  • Show you’ve got skin in the game.
  • Aim for the heart of your goal—emotionalize your offering. Be interested in what interests your listeners and they’ll find your story interesting and your goal compelling.
  • Remember, the context in which you tell your story colors the story you tell.
  • Be dialed in; your listener’s prejudices can hijack even your best story.

The hero of a story is the character who makes the hard decisions and actually feels meaningful change happen within himself.

In my courses at UCLA over the years, my graduate students often ask where they can find source material for purposeful stories, given that they’ve barely begun their careers. Based on my experience, I tell them that narrative is always lurking, ready to give emotion to information, shape to experience, and propulsion to purpose. But as organizational story guru Steve Denning said at one of our narrative conclaves, the key is not to expect to find a story fully born, perfectly framed and ready for use, but to constantly stockpile fragments that have the potential to become constantly stockpile fragments that have the potential to become stories. “Once you have enough material to tell a story, then you have to perfect it.”

Thinking back over the stories I’ve told in my own career, I’ve found that the most effective story material usually comes from firsthand experience. When you narrate an event that has actually happened to you, it’s natural to infuse your telling with the emotional highs, lows, and inflections you felt at the time, whether you were the hero or a secondary participant in that drama. Your personal feeling will ignite your listener's’ empathy and carry them along on your emotional journey. Plus, personal experiences are easy to remember and tell with authenticity because you lived them.

Finally, one of the richest sources of story material is history, with its vast wealth of legends, myths, and true adventures.

  • Heroes come in all shapes and sizes—teller, listener, customer, product, location, and tribe; choose the hero that fits your goal.
  • Your first hand or witnessed experience is the best raw material for your story.
  • Use metaphors and analogies to fire up imagination and illumination.
  • Engage the powerful narratives in books, movies, and history to emotionalize your call to action.

  • Get yourself into state; it’s about attitude, not aptitude.
  • Bring high energy—the catalyst for great storytelling.
  • Your listeners may be one or many, but they’re always an audience, and audiences expect experiences.
  • Demonstrate vulnerability; it isn’t a liability, it’s an asset.
  • Persist, persist, persist to turn “no” into “on.”
  • Be aware that your body is talking before your tongue moves.
  • Capture your audience’s attention first, fast, and foremost.
  • Be interactive—engage your audience’s senses early and often.
  • Arouse your listener’s curiosity.
  • Choose carefully the props, tools, and resources that support your tell.
  • Listen actively; it’s a dialogue, not a monologue.
  • Be ready and willing to drop your script when the situation calls for it—and it always calls for it.
  • Surrender control and proprietorship of your story; your audience has to own it to tell it forward.

  • Empower your audience to tell your story forward.
  • Create a multiplier effect. Find the core audience who can be apostles for your message and encourage them to tell your story through the power of their own words.
  • In the face of adversity, be willing to recast your story through the lens of your listeners’ new needs while remaining authentic to your story’s core elements.
  • Legacy stories are powerful and enduring. Abandon them at your peril.

  • Don’t rely solely on state-of-the-art technologies to connect. It’s the state-of-the-heart technology that’s the game changer when you tell your story in the room, face-to-face.
  • Be ambidextrous—emotionally transport your listeners to your goal online and offline through the art of the tell.
  • Tell to Win! Use it well. Use it purposefully. Use it to your greatest advantage.

To continue your journey and find out more about how you can tell purposeful stories to connect, persuade, and triumph through the hidden power of story, please visit
Book referred in this book
The developing Mind and the mindful brain by Dan Siegel
The secret language of leadership and the leader's guide to storytelling
Free and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

March 20, 2016

The master algorithm by Pedro Domingos

The master algorithm by Pedro Domingos
How the quest for the ultimate learning machine will remake our world
[ I love this book by its overwhelming insights into the future than can be]
The central hypothesis of this book: All knowledge -past, present, and future- can be derived from data by a single, universal learning algorithm.
Symbolists view learning as the inverse of deduction and take ideas from philosophy, psychology and logic. Connectionists reverse engineer the brain and are inspired by neuroscience and physics. Evolutionaries simulate evolution on the computer and draw on genetics and evolutionary biology. Bayesians believe learning is a form of probabilistic inference and have their roots in statistics. Analyzers learn by extrapolating from similarity judgments and are influenced by psychology and mathematical optimization.
Each of the above five tribes of machine learning has its own master algorithms, a general purpose learner that you can in principle use to discover knowledge from data in any domain. The symbolists’ master algorithm is inverse deduction, the connectionists’ is backpropagation, the evolutionaries’ is generic programming, the Bayesians’ is Bayesian inference, and analyzers’ is the support vector machine. If exists, the Master algorithm can derive all knowledge in the world - past, present and future - from data.
The Machine-learning Revolution.
Claude Shannon better known as the father of information theory, was the first to realize that what transistors are doing, as they switch on and off in response to other transistors, is reasoning Symbol algorithms can be represented by diagrams:AND, OR, NOT operations.
Algorithms are an exacting standard. It’s often said that you don’t really understand something until you can express it as an algorithm. For example, Newton’s second law, arguably the most important equation of all time, tells you to compute the net force on an object by multiplying its mass by its acceleration. It also tells you implicitly that the acceleration is the force divided by the mass, but making that explicit is itself an algorithmic step.
There is a serpent in this Eden. It’s called the complexity monster. Like the Hydra, the complexity monster has many heads. One of them is space complexity: the number of bits of information an algorithm needs to store in the computer’s memory. If the algorithm needs more memory than the computer can provide, it is useless and must be discarded. Then there is the evil sister, time complexity: how long the algorithm takes to run, that is, how many steps of using and reusing the transistors it has to go through before it produces the desired results. If it is longer than we can wait, the algorithm is again useless. But the scariest face of the complexity monster is human complexity. When algorithms become too intricate for our poor human brains to understand, when the interactions between different parts of the algorithm are too many and too involved, errors creep in, we can't find them and fix them, and the algorithm doesn’t do want we want.
Learning algorithm are seeds, data is soil, and the learned programs are the grown plants. The machine-learning expert is like a farmer, sowing the seeds, irrigating and fertilizing the soil, and keeping an eye on the health of the crop but otherwise staying out of the way.
We can think of machine learning as the inverse of programming,, in the same way that the square root is the inverse of the square or integration is the inverse of differentiation.
In the information-processing ecosystem, learners are the superpredators. Database, crawlers, indexers and so on are the herbivores, patiently mugging on endless fields of data. Statistical algorithms, online analytics processing and so are the predators.
Machine-learning experts are an elite priesthood even among computer scientists. This is because computer scientists particularly those of an older generation, don’t understand machine learning. This is because computer science has traditionally been all about thinking deterministically, but machine learning requires thinking statistically.
The industrial revolution automated manual work and the information revolution did the same for mental work, but machine learning automated automation itself. Without it, programmers become the bottleneck holding up the progress. With it, the pace of progress picks up.
Both Google and Yahoo use auctions to sell ads and machine learning to predict how likely a user is to click on an ad. Google’s learning algorithms are much better than Yahoo’s. This is not the only reason for the difference in their market caps, but it is a big one. Every predicted click that doesn't happen is a wasted opportunity for the advertiser and lost revenue for the website.
Once the inevitable happens and learning algorithms become the middlemen, power becomes concentrated in them. Google algorithms largely determine what information you find. Amazon’s what products you buy etc. The last mile is still yours - choosing from among the options the algorithms present you with - but 99.(% percent of the selection was done by them.
Data is the new ‘oil’ is a popular refrain and as with oil, refining it is big business.
Machine learning automates discovery. It is no surprise, then, that it is revolutionizing science as much as it’s revolutionizing business. To make a progress, every field of science needs to have data commensurate with the complexity of the phenomena it studies. This is why physics was the first science to take off: Tycho Brahe's recordings of the positions of the planets and Galileo’s observations of pendulums and inclined planes were enough to infer Newton’s laws. It is also why molecular biology despite being younger than neuroscience has outpaced it: DNA microarrays and high-throughput sequencing provide a volume of data that neuroscientists can only hope for. And it is the reason why social science research is such an uphill battle.
With big data and machine learning, you can understand much more complex phenomena than before. In most fields, scientists have traditionally used only very limited kind of models, like linear regression. Unfortunately most phenomena in the world are nonlinear.
Bill Gates remark that a breakthrough in machine learning would be worth ten Microsoft will seem conservative. Machine learning will bring about not just a new era of civilization, but a new stage in the evolution of life on Earth.
The Master Algorithm
Just a few algorithms are responsible for the great majority of machine-learning applications. Naive Bayes, a learning algorithm that can be expressed as a single short equation. Given a database of patient records, Naive Bayes can learn to diagnose the condition in a fraction of a second, often better than doctors who spent many years in medical school.
Nearest-neighbor algorithm has been used for everything from handwriting recognition to controlling robot hands to recommending books and movies you might like.
Decision tree learners are equally apt at deciding whether your credit card application should be accepted, finding splice junctions in DNA, and choosing the next move in a game of chess.
In physics, the same equation applied to different quantities often describe phenomena in completely different fields: The wave equation the diffusion equation, the Poisson's’ equation. Quite conceivably, they are all instances of a master equation and all the Master Algorithm needs to do is figure out how to instantiate it for different data sets.
Physics is unique in its simplicity. Outside physics and engineering, the track record of mathematics is more mixed. Biology and sociology will never be as simple as physics, but the method by which we discover their truths can be.
Bayes theorem is a machine that turns data into knowledge. According to Bayesian statisticians, it is the only correct way to turn data into knowledge.
P and NP are the two most important classes of problems in computer science.
Stories of falling apples notwithstanding, deep scientific truths are not low-hanging fruit. Science goes through three phases, which we can call the Brahe, Kepler, and Newton phases. Brahe phase, we gather lots of data, In Kepler phase, we fit empirical laws to the data. In Newton’s phase, we discover the deeper truths. Most science consists of Brahe and Kepler like work; Newton moments are rare. Today, big data does the work of billions of Brahs and machine learning the work of millions of Kepler's. If there are more Newton moments to be had, they are a likely to come from tomorrow's learning algorithms as from tomorrow’s even more overwhelmed scientist or at least from a combination of the two.
The power of theory lies in how much it simplifies our description of the world. Armed with Newton’s laws, we only need to know the masses, positions and velocities of all objects at one point in the time,; their positions and velocities at all times follow. So Newton’s laws reduce our description of the world by a factor of the number of distinguishable instants in the history of universe, past and future.
Newton’s laws are only an approximation of the true laws of physics, so let's replace them with a string theory, ignoring all its problem and the question of whether it can never be empirically validated.
First problem is In reality we never have enough data to completely determine the world. Second problem is that even if we had complete knowledge of the world at some point in time, the laws of physics would still not allow us to determine its past and future. The theories we have in biology, psychology, sociology or economics are not corollaries of the laws of physics; they had to be created from scratch.
Hume’s problem of induction
Rationalists believe that the senses deceive and that logical reasoning is the only sure path to knowledge. Empiricists believe that all reasoning is fallible and that knowledge must come from observation and experimentation. The French are rationalists; the Anglo-Saxon are empiricists.
The rationalists like to plan everything in advance before making the first move. The empiricist prefers to try things and see how they turn out. Plato was an early rationalist and Aristotle an early empiricist.
Newton’s third rule: Whatever is true of everything we have seen is true of everything in the universe.
Harvard’s Leslie Valiant received the Turing Award, the Nobel price of computer science, for inventing the type analysis which he describes in his book entitled, approximately enough, “Probably Approximately Correct’
How does your brain learn
Donald Hebb, a Canadian psychologist, stated that “Neurons that fire together wire together”. A neural network is more like a social network, where a few close friends count for more than thousands of Facebook ones. And it’s the friends you trust most that influence you the most.
The curve which looks like an elongated S is variously known as the logistic, sigmoid or S curve. Peruse it closely, because it is the most important curve in the world. At first the output increases slowly with the input, so slowly it seems constant. The it starts to change faster, they very fast, then slower and slower until it becomes almost constant again. Joseph Schumpeter said that the economy evolves by cracks and leaps.: S curve are the shape of creative destruction. Every motion of your muscles follow an S curve; slow, then fast , then slow again. The S curve is not just important as a model in its own right; it is also the hack of all trades of mathematics. Many phenomena we think of as linear are in fact S curve, because nothing can grow without limit. When someone talks about exponential growth, ask yourself: How soon will it turn into an S curve? In fact, every function can be closely approximated by a sum of S curves.
The path to optimal learning begins with a formula that many people have heard of: Bayes’ theorem: simple rule for updating your degree of belief in a hypothesis when you receive new evidence.
Christianity as we know it was invented by Saint Paul, while Jesus saw himself as the pinnacle of the Jewish faith. Similarly, Bayesianism as we know it was invented by Pierre-Simon de Laplace, a Frenchman who was born five decades after Bayes. Bayes was the preacher who first described a new way to think about chance, but it was Laplace who codified those insights into the theorem that bears Bayes’ name. This is ironic, since LaPlace was also the father of probability theory. Which he believed was just common sense reduced to calculation
As the statistician George Box famously put it: “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. An oversimplified model that you have enough data to estimate is better than a perfect one that you don’t. The economist Milton Friedman even argued in a highly influential essay that the best theories are the most simplified, provided their predictions are accurate, because they explain the most with the least. .
Analogical reasoning has a distinguished intellectual pedigree. Aristotle expressed it in his law of similarity.: if two things are similar, the thought of one will tend to trigger the thought of the other. William James believed that “ this sense of sameness is the very  keel and backbone of our thinking”. Some contemporary psychologists even argue that human cognition in its entirely is a fabric of analogies.
Nearest-neighbor is the simplest and fastest learning algorithms ever invented. In fact, you could even say it is the fastest algorithm of any kind that could ever be invented. It consists of doing exactly nothing, and therefore takes zero time to run.
Help-desk are currently the most popular applications of case-based reasoning. Most still employ a human intermediary, but IPSoft Eliza talks directly to the customer. Eliza , who comes complete with a 3D interactive video persona, has solved over 20 million customer problems to date, mostly for blue-chip US companies. “Greetings from Robotistan, outsourcing’s cheapest new destination”. And just as outsourcing keeps climbing the skills ladder, so does analogical learning. The first robo-lawyers that argue for a particular verdict based on precedents have already been built. One such system correctly predicted the outcomes of over 90 % of the trade secret cases it examined.
Arguably even higher up in the skills ladder in music composition. David Cope, an emeritus professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, designed an algorithm that creates new music in the style of famous composers by selecting and recombining short passages from their work. At a conference I attended some years ago, he played three Mozart pieces: one by the real Mozart, one by a human composer imitating Mozart and one by his system. He then asked the audience to vote for the authentic Amadeus. Wolfgang won, but the computer beat the human imitator. If Cope is right, creativity - the ultimate unfathomable - boils down to analogy and recombination.
Analyzers neatest trick, however, is learning across problem domains. Humans do it all the time. Wall Street hires lots of physicists because physical and financial problems, although superficially very different, often have a similar mathematical structure. Yet all the learners we have seen so far would fall flat, if we say trained them to predict Brownian motion and then asked them to predict the stock market.
Principal component analysis (PCA) as this process is known is one of the key tools in the scientist's toolkit. Psychologists have found that personality boils down to five dimensions - extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to experience- which they can infer from your tweets and blog posts. Applying PCA to congressional votes and poll data shows that, contrary to popular belief, politics is not mainly about liberals versus conservatives. rather , people differ along two main dimensions: one for economic issues and one for social ones.
Research on reinforcement learning started in earnest in the early 1980s. Reinforcement learning with neural networks has had some notable successes. An early one was a human-level backgammon player. More recently, a reinforcement learner from DeepMind, a London based startup, beat an expert human player at Pong and other simple arcade games. It used a deep network to predict actions values from the console screen’s raw pixels. With its end-to-end vision, learning, and control, the system bore at least a passing resemblance to an artificial brain. This may help explain why Google paid half a billion dollars for deepMind, a company with ni products, no revenues and few employees.
In 1979, Allen Newell and Paul Rosenbloom started wondering what could be the reason for this so-called power law of practice. We perceive and remember things in chunks and we can only hold so many chunks in short-term memory at any given time (seven plus or minus two, according to the classic paper by George Miller). Crucially, grouping things into chunks allows us to process much more information that we otherwise could. That is why telephone numbers have hyphens:1-723-458-3897 is much easier to remember than 172344563897. Herbert Simon, AI cofounder, had earlier found that the main difference between novice and expert chess players is that novices perceive chess positions one piece at a time, while experts see larger patterns involving multiple pieces. Getting better at chess mainly involves acquiring more and larger such chunks.
Chunking and reinforcement learning are not as widely used in business as supervised learning, clustering or dimensionality reduction , but a simple type of learning by interacting with the environment is: learning the effects of your actions.
Many people worry that human-directed evolution will permanently split the human race into a class of genetic haves and one of have-nots. This strikes me as a single failure of imagination. Natural evolution did not result in just two species, one subservient to the other, but in an infinite variety of creatures and intricate ecosystems. Why would artificial evolution, building on it but less constrained, do so?