Archive for category General

The Solution to AI Concerns

If computers get too powerful, we can organise them into a committee – that will do them in.

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Persuasive and Memorable Stories

“In 350 B.C., Aristotle was already wondering what could make content—in his case, a speech—persuasive and memorable, so that its ideas would pass from person to person. The answer, he argued, was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.”

from: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/01/the-six-things-that-make-stories-go-viral-will-amaze-and-maybe-infuriate-you.html

 

 

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Office v. Open Plan

Offices.  Open Plan.  Always seem to be the bone of contention in the modern work environment.  I know which side of the fence (or should I say ‘door’) which I firmly sit on – even though I am perpetually on the other side (much to my chagrin).  Psyblog has rounded up a bunch of research in this area, presented here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/09/6-psych-tips-for-creating-the-ideal-workspace.php#utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PsychologyBlog+%28PsyBlog%29 and below …


 

The perfect office space: beautiful curves, natural views and greenery.

There you are, sitting in the office, as usual, working away.

Look away from the screen for a moment and what do you see? How tidy is your desk? Is it an open-plan office? Is there a view out of the window? Are there any plants in sight? Did you personally choose the decorations near your desk?

All these factors and more have interesting psychological effects on how people work and how good they feel about it. So here are six tips, based on psychological research, for creating the ideal workspace.

1. Avoid open-plan (if you can)

Open-plan offices are supposed to encourage communication and team-spirit. At least, that’s the theory.

According to a survey which analysed data from 303 US office buildings, there’s some truth to the boost in communication, but no evidence it increases community spirit (Kim & Dear, 2012).

On top of this, the small benefits in communication are massively outweighed by the disadvantages of working in open-plan offices. Most have worked in these and know exactly what they are: noise, distraction and lack of privacy.

Unsurprisingly, people working in private offices are significantly happier with their working environment.

Not that most people have much choice about this either way and I guess many do their best to create their own sense of privacy using headphones, cubicles or hiding under the desk—whatever works.

2. The great messy/tidy desk debate

Does a messy desk help or hinder? Is the untidy desk really a sign of an untidy mind?

Well, research has found that order and disorder in the environment have different psychological consequences.

An experiment (described here) found that messy desks tended to encourage more creativity, while tidy desks encouraged conformity and general good moral behaviour.

So, both messy and untidy desks have their place, depending on the type of outcome you are looking for.

3. Curvy is beautiful

While we can’t use psychology to solve the messy/tidy debate decisively, we can with curvy versus plain old straight.

In a study by Dazkir and Read (2011), participants were shown some stimulated interiors with loads of straight edges and some with loads of curves.

People rated the curvy environments as making them feel more peaceful, calm and relaxed. So, curvy wins.

Just the same effect was found in another experiment which found people more likely to judge curvy spaces in general as more beautiful (Vartanian et al., 2013).

4. Room with a view (or a picture of a view)

Most of us know that a nice walk through nature has a calming effect on the mind. Indeed, there is a study showing that a walk in nature can boost memory by 20%.

But what about bringing a little nature inside the office space?

This has also been tested in a study by Berto (2005), who found that just viewing pictures of natural scenes had a restorative effect on cognitive function.

In fact, the benefits of viewing landscapes likely extend to reducing short-term stress as well as benefiting overall health and well-being (Verlarde & Teit, 2007).

5. Plants

If walks in nature and natural scenes can calm the mind, then surely plants should work as well?

Indeed they do, research by Raaaas et al. (2011) found that after being exposed to an office setting with four indoor plants, people’s attentional capacities were restored in comparison to the control condition, which had no plant-life.

6. Decorate

The lean, clean, efficient office space has been seen as the model environment in which to really get some work done.

But, like the tidy desk enthusiasts, the office minimalists are also taking a kicking in the research.

An experiment by Knight & Haslam (2010) looked at the effects of bare offices as compared with those either decorated by the experimenter or decorated by the people occupying them.

What effects, they wondered, would office decoration have on people’s well-being, their attention to detail, their management of information and so on.

The answer is that decorated offices won out over their bare counterparts. When people were empowered by being allowed to do their own decoration, they produced higher productivity and experienced enhanced well-being.

As one of their participants remarked, echoing, I’m sure, the feelings of many:

“…it’s so nice to come into an office with plants and pictures, it makes a place feel more homely, even a glass box [of an office] like this.”

 

 

 

 

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Robbers Cave Experiment — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/war-peace-and-role-of-power-in-sherifs.php

 

Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study of prejudice and conflict, has at least one hidden story.

The typical retelling of Sherif’s classic Robbers Cave experiment highlights the resolution of intergroup prejudice, but recent interpretations suggest a darker conclusion that demonstrates the corrupting influence of power.

The Robbers Cave experiment, a classic study of prejudice and conflict, has at least one hidden story. The well-known story emerged in the decades following the experiment as textbook writers adopted a particular retelling. With repetition people soon accepted this story as reality, forgetting it is just one version of events, one interpretation of a complex series of studies. As scholars have returned to the Robbers Cave experiment another story has emerged, putting a whole new perspective on the findings.

First though, the more familiar story…

Conflict and prejudice

In this experiment twenty-two 11 year-old boys were taken to a summer camp in Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma, little knowing they were the subjects of an experiment. Before the trip the boys were randomly divided into two groups. It’s these two groups that formed the basis of Sherif’s study of how prejudice and conflict build up between two groups of people (Sherif et al., 1961).

When the boys arrived, they were housed in separate cabins and, for the first week, did not know about the existence of the other group. They spent this time bonding with each other while swimming and hiking. Both groups chose a name which they had stencilled on their shirts and flags: one group was the Eagles and the other the Rattlers.

Name calling

The two groups now established, the experiment moved into its second phase. For the first time the two groups were allowed to find out about each other and soon the signs of intergroup conflict emerged in the form of verbal abuse.

A little name-calling wasn’t enough, though. The experimenters wanted to increase the conflict substantially. To do this they pitted the groups against each other in a series of competitions. This ratcheted up the antagonism between the two groups, especially once all the team scores were added up and the Rattlers won the overall trophy for the competitive activities. They didn’t let the Eagles forget it.

The Rattlers staked their claim to the ball field by planting their flag in it. Later on each group started name calling at the other and singing derogatory songs. Soon the groups were refusing to eat in the same room together.

Making peace

With conflict between the groups successfully instigated, the experiment now moved into its final phase. Could the experimenters make the two groups kiss and make up? First of all they tried some activities in which the two groups were brought together, such as watching a film and shooting firecrackers, but neither of these worked.

The experimenters then tried a new approach. They took the two groups to a new location and gave them a series of problems to try and solve. In the first problem the boys were told the drinking water supply had been attacked by vandals. After the two groups successfully worked together to unblock a faucet, the first seeds of peace were sown.

In the second problem the two groups had to club together to pay for the movie they wanted to watch. Both groups also agreed on which movie they should watch. By the evening the members of both groups were once again eating together.

The groups ‘accidentally’ came across more problems over the next few days. The key thing about each of them was that they involved superordinate goals: boys from both groups worked together to achieve something they all had an interest in. Finally all the boys decided to travel home together in the same bus. Peace had broken out all over.

Sherif reached an important conclusion from this study, and other similar work carried out in the 1940s and 50s. He argued that groups naturally develop their own cultures, status structures and boundaries. Think of each of these groups of boys as like a country in microcosm. Each country has its own culture, its government, legal system and it draws boundaries to differentiate itself from neighbouring countries. From these internal structures, the roots of conflict in both the groups of boys and between countries are created.

One of the reasons Sherif’s study is so famous is that it appeared to show how groups could be reconciled, how peace could flourish. The key was the focus on superordinate goals, those stretching beyond the boundaries of the group itself. It seemed that this was what brought the Rattlers and the Eagles back together.

The other story

What is often left out of the familiar story is that it was not the first of its type, but actually the third in a series carried out by Sherif and colleagues. The two earlier studies had rather less happy endings. In the first, the boys ganged up on a common enemy and in the second they ganged up on the experimenters themselves. How does this alter the way we look at the original Robbers Cave experiment?

Michael Billig argues that when looking at all three studies, Sherif’s work involves not just two groups but three, the experimenters are part of the system as well (Billig, 1976). In fact, with the experimenters included, it is clear they are actually the most powerful group. Much of the conflict between the two groups of boys is orchestrated by the experimenters. The experimenters have a vested interest in creating conflict between the two groups of boys. It was they who had the most to lose if the experiment went wrong, and the most to gain if it went right.

Power relations

The three experiments, then, one with a ‘happy’ ending, and two less so, can be seen in terms of the possible outcomes when a powerful group tries to manipulate two weaker groups. Sometimes they can be made to play fair (experiment three), sometimes the groups will unite against a common enemy (experiment one) and sometimes they will turn on the powerful group (experiment two).

For psychologist Frances Cherry it is the second experiment which makes this analysis plausible. When the boys rebel against the experimenters, they showed understanding of how they were being manipulated (Cherry, 1995). Although the Robbers Cave experiment is, in some sense, the ‘successful’ study, taken together with the other two it is more realistic. In reality, Cherry argues, it is more often the case that groups hold unequal amounts of power.

Weak groups can rebel

Unequal levels of power between groups fundamentally changes the dynamic between them. Whether it’s countries, corporations, or just families, if one group has more power, suddenly the way is open for orchestrated competitions and cooperation, not to mention manipulation. Manipulating other groups, though, is a dangerous game, and weaker groups don’t always play by the rules set for them. Perhaps this is the more subtle, if less enduring message of the Robbers Cave experiment and its supposedly less successful predecessors.

 

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10 Easy Activities Science Has Proven Will Make You Happier Today — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/07/10-easy-activities-science-has-proven-will-make-you-happier-today.php

A thankful message, spending on others, listening to music, happy daydreams and more…
Science can make you happier. Do at least some of these activities today and feel the positive vibrations flow. Keep it going for a week or longer and feel your mood lift.

1. Mentally subtract something good from your life

People spend a lot of time thinking about good things that didn’t happen, but might have done. But what about the good things that did happen that might not have?

Say you’d never met your partner or friend or got that job? What would life be like without some of those things we take for granted?

Thinking about what might not have been can be tremendously powerful if used in the right way. Counter-factual thinking can create meaning in life and, and can increase satisfaction with what you have (Koo et al., 2008).

So, mentally subtract something good from your life to really appreciate it.

2. Send a thankful message

Gratitude is a powerful emotion that helps us enjoy what we have.

Evoke it right now by sending an email, text or letter to someone who has helped you in some way. Thank them for what they have done for you, however small.

It’s easy and quick and one study has found that practising gratitude can increase happiness 25%. Another found that just three letters over a three-week period was enough to reliably increase happiness and life satisfaction (Toepfer et al., 2012).

3. Spend money on someone else

Money can make you happy but only if you use it in the right way (see: how to spend wisely).

One of the easiest ways is by spending it on others. So, why does spending on others increase your happiness?

“It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy. It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships. And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.”

So, buy a friend a present today or take them out to lunch. You’ll feel good about it, I promise.

4. Get some exercise

What’s the number one strategy that people use to feel better, increase their energy levels and reduce tension? Exercise.

It doesn’t have to be a marathon; a simple walk around the block will do the trick. We all know it’ll make us feel better to get out and stretch our legs, but there are always excuses to avoid it.

If you’re at home, make time for a trip that doesn’t involve the car and does involve your legs. If you’re in the office, make sure you get out for a walk at lunch-time instead of eating sandwiches in front of the computer.

5. Listen to music

Number two on the list of all time top strategies people use for feeling better is: listening to music.

Music can influence mood in many ways but most people rate its power to manage our positive moods as the top reason they love music. We particularly like the fact that it can make our good moods even better.

Even sad music can bring pleasure as many people enjoy the contradictory mix of emotions it creates.

6. Make plans…

Remember those childhood days leading up to Christmas when you couldn’t wait to rip open your presents? The pleasure in anticipation was just incredible.

Research on the psychology of happiness shows that anticipation can be a powerful positive emotion. We enjoy looking forward to things much more than we enjoy looking back on them afterwards (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).

So, make a plan now and try to always have something to look forward to, however small.

7. …with friends

The best types of plans to make are with friends.

It’s not just that you’ll have the pleasure of anticipation; it’s also that you’re keeping the friendship alive.

One study of 8 million phone calls has found, not exactly surprisingly, that when people call each other back, their friendships are much more likely to survive (Hidalgo & Rogriguez-Sickert, 2007).

If an economic incentive might help motivate you to make plans with friends, then here is one from research that attempted to put a monetary value on different types of social relationships (Powdthavee, 2008):

“…a move from “seeing friends or relatives less than once a month” to “seeing friends or relatives on most days” is now estimated to be worth an extra £85,000 a year for a representative individual”

In other words: you’d have to earn £85,000 ($130,000) more a year to make you as happy as if you saw friends or relatives on most days of the week.

So, not only is staying in touch with friends good, but it’ll save you a lot of effort trying to earn more money at work.

8. List 3 good things that happened today

At the end of the day, before you go to bed, spend a few minutes thinking about three good things that happened today. They don’t have to be that amazing; just three things that made you feel a little better. You can also think about why they happened.

In one study in which people carried out this exercise, their happiness was increased, and depressive symptoms decreased, fully six months afterwards (Seligman et al., 2005).

If you’ve done some of the things mentioned here, then you’ll already have at least three things for your list.

9. Practice your signature strengths

Simply put this means doing things you are good at. Whatever it is, people are usually cheered up when they do things at which they excel.

Think about things that you are good at: it could be social skills, physical skills, sporting skills or anything really. It could be making someone laugh or giving someone a helping hand.

Then take some time during the day to use that skill. When people practice their signature strengths it makes them happier.

10. A happy daydream

If you’re less of a doer and more of a dreamer, then this activity is for you: have a happy daydream.

Over the course of the day our minds tend to wander a lot, but directing that mind-wandering in a positive way can be very beneficial.

In this research on life-savouring strategies, positive mental time travel was found to be one of the most effective. In the study people thought back to times in their lives that gave them pleasure; moments filled with success, love and friendship.

The mind may try to fight back by travelling back to past embarrassments or failures, but keep it locked into a happy daydream for the best boost.

Go on, sit back and have a little daydream…

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Empathy Represses Analytic Thought

An article in Science Daily (Empathy Represses Analytic Thought, and Vice Versa: Brain Physiology Limits Simultaneous Use of Both Networks) reports some recent investigations which suggest that the human brain can not both be analytic and emphathetic at the same time.  It states, in part:

“When the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed.

At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, the researchers found.

The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time.”

Worth a read – particularly if you are dealing with business and organisational related issues concerning human beings.

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Vision, Mission, Strategic Intent, Strategies, Tactics, Recommendations, Roadmap, Action Plan

 

Vision An aspirational statement of where the organisation desires to be in the future, the direction and ultimate goal of the organisation what it would achieve or accomplish in the future. The vision statement answers the question “Where do we want to go?”, and as such, is purposively directional.
Mission The core purpose and focus of the organisation, which normally remains unchanged within a strategic planning period, whereas strategies and tactics may be altered more often to adapt to the changing circumstances. A mission is different from a vision in that the former is the cause and the latter is the effect; a mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment.
Strategic Intent The critical drivers for the organisation, what the organisation must do (now) in order to achieve its vision and mission. A clarification of vision with specifics for realisation. Strategic intent has a sense of direction, a sense of discovery and a sense of destiny associated with it.
Strategies Strategy is the planning and marshalling of resources for their most efficient and effective use to create a desired future, such as achieving a goal or solution to a problem. Strategies are the statements of individual strategy to be pursued. Also described as (or in terms of) Objectives. Each of the strategies / objectives must satisfy the SMART criteria, in that they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Various strategies may constitute a “strategic enabler” for a particular strategic intent.
Tactics The specific sets of actions in a scheduled sequence (typically in the near term) to accomplish a strategy. More generally, the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end (such as the objective of a strategy).
Recommendations Statements of the appropriate course of action to be taken with respect to a subject.
Roadmap The Roadmap identifies specific strategies and tactics (such as specific technology solutions) in a sequenced arrangement (plan) to achieve organisational goals, taking into consideration dependencies and other factors influencing achievement of ends. The Roadmap constitutes a framework assisting in coordinating future work and development, as well as communicating such work with involved parties.
Action Plan The (communication) document which outlines all the elements of strategic planning for an organisation into a single cohesive plan, defining required action to achieve organisational goals.

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The Future of Computing (Now) – Cloud Computing

What is Cloud Computing?

In simple terms, cloud computing builds on the foundations of virtualised resources (compute resources, storage resources, network resources), providing an additional level of configuration and control across multiple virtual environments, as well as the capability of implementing “self service” facilities.

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of:

  1. five essential characteristics:
    1. On-demand self-service;
    2. Broad network access;
    3. Resource pooling;
    4. Rapid elasticity;
    5. Measured Service;
  2. three service models:
    1. Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS);
    2. Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS);
    3. Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); and,
  3. four deployment models:
    1. Private cloud;
    2. Community cloud;
    3. Public cloud;
    4. Hybrid cloud.

Key enabling technologies include:

  1. fast wide-area networks;
  2. powerful, inexpensive server computers; and
  3. high-performance virtualization for commodity hardware.”

(Source: NIST)

“Cloud computing is a category of computing solutions in which a technology and/or service lets users access computing resources on demand, as needed, whether the resources are physical or virtual, dedicated, or shared, and no matter how they are accessed (via a direct connection, LAN, WAN, or the Internet). The cloud is often characterized by self-service interfaces that let customers acquire resources when needed as long as needed. Cloud is also the concept behind an approach to building IT services that takes advantage of the growing power of servers and virtualization technologies.”  (Source: IBM)

Cloud Computing is now one of the “hot topics” in ICT.  Almost all major vendors have some semblance of a cloud computing offering, however that may be defined (since, as with most “hot topics”, vendors and others define an amorphous term such as cloud computing in a manner which best suits their interests).

Other terminology is sometimes used in conjunction with (and sometimes, erroneously, synonymous with) cloud computing.  The terms SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) can all be considered as sub-variants of the more generic term “cloud computing”.  The diagram in this IBM introductory material further elucidates these differences.

 

Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds

“In general, a public (external) cloud is an environment that exists outside a company’s firewall. It can be a service offered by a third-party vendor. It could also be referred to as a shared or multi-tenanted, virtualized infrastructure managed by means of a self-service portal.

A private (internal) cloud reproduces the delivery models of a public cloud and does so behind a firewall for the exclusive benefit of an organization and its customers. The self-service management interface is still in place while the IT infrastructure resources being collected are internal.

In a hybrid cloud environment, external services are leveraged to extend or supplement an internal cloud.”  (Source: IBM)

Diagrammatically, the three (3) types of cloud computing offerings can be depicted as:

Cloud Computing Types

(Source: Sam Johnston)

Private Clouds

“Private clouds presents (sic) a shift from a model where everything is customized to one of standardization. Management in such an environment is no longer about avoiding change but instead embracing it to facilitate IT’s twin goals: delivering on the needs of the business and managing the underlying resources in the most efficient way possible.

The move to private cloud represents an industrial revolution for IT, applying industrial manufacturing techniques to the provisioning of IT services, gaining standardization and automation.

Standardization is central to achieving much greater operational efficiency.  Private clouds not only facilitate standardization but dramatically increase the returns on standardization. Deploying standard infrastructure from a templatized catalog of applications is orders of magnitude faster and easier than building each application from scratch. Similar gains are available from centralizing and standardizing high availability, network management, and security.

To take advantage of the cloud, there needs to be a clear separation of the production versus consumption layer. In the cloud, the consumer (the business) has no idea – and importantly, little interest in or concern with – what hardware platform and management tools are being used to deliver services.”  (Source: VMWare)

It should be noted that some commentators (for instance, Sam Johnston in his “Random rants about tech stuff (cloud computing, intellectual property, security, etc.)“) suggest that Private Clouds are a neologism to justify various vendors offerings in competition to the “pure” Public Cloud model.  Nevertheless, even these commentators acknowledge that Private (and Hybrid) Clouds are likely to be used into the immediate future as organisations come to grips with a new way of providing computing facilities.

 

What Should Run in the Cloud?

Since the “cloud” can effectively implement any computing environment (operating systems, etc), then basically anything could be run in the cloud.  As with most things in life, just because it is possible does not necessarily make it either desirable or useful (or even usable).

Typically, highly interactive applications may best operate using a desktop or workstation environment (such as high end graphics manipulation, high end development IDEs, etc).  But the boundaries between a pure cloud environment and a pure desktop environment (and, now, even a pure mobile environment) are becoming increasingly blurred.  In many instances, what were previously only desktop applications now are connected to cloud facilities, typically for storage of data, but also for additional processing capabilities (for instance, to render complex images using the additional compute resources available in cloud facilities).  In the same manner, mobile applications will store (synchronise) data using a cloud facility, thereby allowing a single view of one’s data whether using a web based interface (into the cloud), a mobile device interface (ie on a smartphone) or a desktop interface (ie a MS Windows application).

In addition, applications with extremely sensitive security profiles would most likely not be run in a public cloud or hybrid environment (although could readily be conceived as operating in a secure private cloud environment).

Everything else is amenable to cloud based operation.

 

How big is Cloud Computing?

An interesting infographic from the Wikibon site and its blog provides an insight into the current and projected size of cloud computing, including the economics of why cloud computing is here to stay …

How Big is the World of Cloud Computing?
Via: Wikibon

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Procrastination

With kind regards to PsyBlog (see http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/02/the-zeigarnik-effect.php) … (PS – you should subscribe – it is an excellent resource) …

The Zeigarnik Effect

Post image for The Zeigarnik Effect

What can waiters, the TV series ‘Lost’ and the novelist Charles Dickens teach us about avoiding procrastination?

One of the simplest methods for beating procrastination in almost any task was inspired by busy waiters.

It’s called the Zeigarnik effect after a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik (above left), who noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. When completed, the orders evaporated from their memory.

Zeigarnik went back to the lab to test out a theory about what was going on. She asked participants to do twenty or so simple little tasks in the lab, like solving puzzles and stringing beads (Zeigarnik, 1927). Except some of the time they were interrupted half way through the task. Afterwards she asked them which activities they remembered doing. People were about twice as likely to remember the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

What does this have to do with procrastination? I’ll give you another clue…

Almost sixty years later Kenneth McGraw and colleagues carried out another test of the Zeigarnik effect (McGraw et al., 1982). In it participants had to do a really tricky puzzle; except they were interrupted before any of them could solve it and told the study was over. Despite this nearly 90% carried on working on the puzzle anyway.

Got it yet?

Cliffhanger

Here’s another clue: one of the oldest tricks in the TV business for keeping viewers tuned in to a serial week after week is the cliffhanger. The hero seems to have fallen off a mountain but the shot cuts away before you can be sure. And then those fateful words: “TO BE CONTINUED…” Literally a cliffhanger.

You tune in next week for the resolution because the mystery is ticking away in the back of your mind.

The great English novelist Charles Dickens used exactly the same technique. Many of his works, like Oliver Twist, although later published as complete novels, were originally serialised.

His cliffhangers created such anticipation in people’s minds that his American readership would wait at New York docks for the latest instalment to arrive by ship from Britain. They were that desperate to find out what happened next.

I’ve started so I’ll finish

What all these examples have in common is that when people manage to start something they’re more inclined to finish it. Procrastination bites worst when we’re faced with a large task that we’re trying to avoid starting. It might be because we don’t know how to start or even where to start.

What the Zeigarnik effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting somewhere…anywhere.

Don’t start with the hardest bit, try something easy first. If you can just get under way with any part of a project, then the rest will tend to follow. Once you’ve made a start, however trivial, there’s something drawing you on to the end. It will niggle away in the back of your mind like a Lost cliffhanger.

Although the technique is simple, we often forget it because we get so wrapped up in thinking about the most difficult parts of our projects. The sense of foreboding can be a big contributor to procrastination.

The Zeigarnik effect has an important exception. It doesn’t work so well when we’re not particularly motivated to achieve our goal or don’t expect to do well. This is true of goals in general: when they’re unattractive or impossible we don’t bother with them.

But if we value the goal and think it’s possible, just taking a first step could be the difference between failure and success.

Image credit: Gestalt Theory

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