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Working Hypothesis That Changed My Life:

Every Problem Has a Solution

By Shlomo Maital

   I have written another book on creativity: Dismantle! How to Deconstruct Your Mind and Build a Personal Creativity Machine. It will be published by Harper Collins (India) in October. Why India? I’ve discovered Indian publishers are superb at editing and printing books and the market price is a fraction of that in the US. Besides, Indian people still do read books.

   Here is the opening prologue of my book. It makes a point that I learned from a former student and co-author Arie Ruttenberg: Creativity is widening the range of choice. You always have a choice. Every problem does have a creative solution. But only if you first believe that – and begin your search. This principle has changed my life. Perhaps it can change yours?

     If you are like me, you tend to skip through non-fiction books rather quickly, searching for the essence and picking the ripe ‘cherries’ from the tree, when most of the ‘fruit’ in the book is not yet ripe or relevant or interesting or non-obvious.

   Here, then, is a quick overview of this book. As you read on, please feel free to cherry-pick.

     But before we begin our journey to re-energized creativity, I’d like to emphasize a key point—literally, the key to unlocking your creative skills.

     Scientific research begins with a hypothesis—a supposition about what the research may reveal. For example, a scientist sought to find the number of neurons (brain cells) in the human brain, starting off with the assumption that the number was 100 billion; that was the commonly believed number. The assumption was false. It turned out that there are 86 billion neurons in the brain.  

     We all make assumptions. Most of the time they are hidden, ill-defined and below the threshold of our awareness.   When we tackle hard problems we often harbour a hidden assumption, such as, ‘there is no solution to this’, and come to the conclusion: Live with it, as is.    

       Humans are wonderfully resilient and are skilled at adapting and adjusting to difficulties and unmet needs. This resilience, or acceptance, is a highly positive quality. But it also can be harmful.

         I urge every reader to embrace a very different hypothesis. I would like my readers to assume that for every challenge, every problem, every unmet need and unsatisfied want, there is a solution—at least one. Every problem has a solution.   It is simply a matter of finding it and implementing it. By assuming there is a solution rather than that there is not one, we have taken a major first step towards effective creativity.

Try it. Tackle hard problems. Think creatively. Dive deep into the essence of the problem. Try wild ideas. You may fail. But the effort is glorious and praiseworthy. And you might just succeed.

p.s. the quote is by Donna Karan, who launched a wonderful creative fashion company. Louis Vuitton recently sold the DKNY brand for $650 million.

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Why We Do What We Do – Putting it All Together

By Shlomo Maital

Sometimes things just seem to come together, naturally.

  1. I recently taught a Workshop for a wonderful group of high school science teachers. They all told me, their key problem is – motivating their students. Motvating them to learn.
  2. I recently received a research paper from McKinsey, titled “How to improve student educational outcomes: New insights from data analytics”. In this study McKinsey researchers used machine learning (an offshoot of artificial intelligence) to analyze a massive data set — the PISA surveys of 15 year old high school students and their understanding of science and math. The key finding: Student mindsets are twice as predictive of students’ PISA scores than even their home environments. Mindset means “a student’s sense of belonging, motivation and expectations”. This result is robust across the entire world.

The graph shows the % of predictive power of students’ performance. The top two rectangles (orange and purple) represent “mindset” (motivation), for the five different geographical areas.

  1. My wife’s copy of the American Psychological Association magazine Monitor just arrived. In it, 33 leading psychologists were asked, “What is the next big question psychology needs to answer?” The first person quoted was Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, whose work on growth mindsets (the idea that talent and talent can grow in a nurturing education environment) was seminal. She said we need “an integrative theory of motivation” and “a framework for …effective intervention [to boost motivation].

   These three circles converge. They teach us that how well we motivate ourselves, and those we work with, are THE crucial variables. Because motivated people can do anything (did you watch the Croatia soccer team at the World Cup?). And those without motivation can do nothing.

     Let’s look inward and ask, what lights our spark?   And then look outward and ask, how can we light the sparks of others who work with us?

 

An American’s Vision Healed – in India
            By Shlomo Maital

Kristos Stavropoulos
Kristos Stavropoulos is Chief Information & Technology Officer at Maguire Investments.  The only reason I mention this, is that I assume he has the resources to get top-flight medical care anywhere in the US. 
   Instead he went to … India.
   India?
   Stavropoulos recounts that he had a corneal scar – a scar on the thin transparent layer that covers the iris and pupil of the eye and refracts light.   A scar on the cornea can be a major problem.  Caused by an eye infection, the scar affected his vision – rather crucial in his line of work.  So he travelled all the way to Hyderabad, in southern India, to the L V Prasad Eye Institute.    (I have visited LVPEI several times, and recently met with its amazing founder, Dr. G. N. Rao,  in Israel).  
    At LVPEI   Stavropoulos consulted Dr. Sayan Basu.  She is an expert in a highly complex and revolutionary treatment, that uses stem cells to regrow and repair corneas.  Stem cells are human cells that have the ability to become whatever is needed – include corneal tissue – depending where they are.  But they are notoriously difficult to work with.   Here is what Stavropoulos said, after successful treatment:
     “My experience at LVPEI has been exceptional.  When you think of surgery, it’s scary, especially with eyes.  But the great thing about this institute is the positivity and expertise  that the doctors and the team have.  Most importantly, I trusted Dr. Basu and was assured about the success of the treatment that I was provided.”
    So far, over 1,600 innovative stem cell procedures have been performed at LVPEI, Patients from India, and from all over the world, have benefited from these innovative procedures.  At LVPEI,  wealthy patients pay for patients who have no money.  But everybody, EVERYbody, gets the same quality of medical care.  And the enormous scale of the medical care means that even experimental high-tech procedures can be tried, improved, studied – and made standard.
      At LVPEI I learned about an even more amazing technology under development – use of stem cells to regrow RETINAL cells (the retina is the kind of mirror, or light receptor, at the back of the eye, subject to retinal detachment, or macular degeneration [e.g. holes in the retina] ). 
    So, if you have eye disease, and if your doctors tell you they can’t treat it – check out LVPEI.   Because Indian people have so many eye diseases and problems,  LVPEI experts have vast experience – and creativity plus experience leads to innovative medical care that pushes frontiers to amazing places.  In the past 31 years, LVPEI has treated 28 million people, many of them from very poor villages. 
     By the way, Dr. Rao is now working to establish an LVPEI-type clinic in Monrovia, Liberia.  This,  despite Liberia’s strong links with the United States (it was founded by former American slaves).  It is hard for even top American doctors to understand how to establish medical care centers in very poor countries – but LVPEI knows how.  Liberia’s legendary former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,  who heard of LVPEI and whose close relative was successfully treated there, visited LVPEI, made the request – and LVPEI responded.
      

Rescue Dogs – Rescue Children
By Shlomo Maital 

Seven years ago, our daughter in law came upon a puppy in Tel Aviv. A mixed-breed Yorkshire,  the four-month-old puppy jumped on her, on a Tel Aviv Street.  Dafna could find no owner, and brought her home, bathed her, cleaned her up (she was full of fleas and ticks), took her to the vet for shots…and asked us if we could help find her a home, as a rescue dog.   I met Pixie (the name we gave her) when I came home from a working trip to Europe.  As I came in the door, she jumped into my arms and licked my face… instant love, after 3 microseconds.  At that instant, my wife and I decided we would keep her.  Since then Pixie has made us laugh every single morning and with her antics, made the awful news in the New York Times and Ha’aretz bearable.   
     Pixie IS a rescue dog.  She rescued us, in a sense.  She takes us for walks and offers unconditional love, rain or shine – and an incredible greeting every time we come home, as if we were long-lost siblings.
    Several of our friends have rescue dogs, too.   One has a beautiful placid huge golden retriever, female,  she (the dog) carries herself with dignity worthy of Pope Francis.    Taking home a rescue dog is truly worthwhile and meaningful —  often, it keeps the dog from being put down, in rescue kennels that are vastly overcrowded, because so many unworthy people bring home puppies for children and then suddenly discover dogs need care, feeding and walking ..and abandon them. 
     So yes – great that we love rescue dogs.
     But what about rescue kids?  Writing in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof points out that America is neglecting kids – and not just those of immigrants. 
“It’s not just the kids at the border.  America systematically shortchanges tens of millions of children, including homegrown kids. The upshot is that American kids are more likely to be poor, to drop out of high school and even to die young than in other advanced countries.”
    So —  What about a program for rescue kids?   Resources for education, food. (Republicans now seek to cut a food stamp program that has fed millions – including one child in five who lives in poverty in America,  a Third World statistic).   Even, perhaps, adoption, when justified. 
   Kids are as lovable as dogs. And they deserve just as much love.

p.s. this is blog # 1,500.  Thanks to all my readers. 

How Teddy Bear Got Its Name

By Shlomo Maital

Did you ever wonder how the teddy bear got its name?   The answer: President Theodore Roosevelt.

   Here’s the story.

     In 1902, President Roosevelt was invited by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino to go on a bear hunt. After a long day, Roosevelt saw no bears and retired to sleep. But a group of Roosevelt’s assistants cornered, clubbed, and tied an American black bear to a tree after a long exhausting chase with dogs.

     They called Roosevelt to the site and said that he should shoot it.  He refused to shoot the bear himself, saying it was unsportsmanlike, but said that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery (the bear was way underweight and scraggly).

     Clifford Berryman did a cartoon on the incident in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902.     Later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter than it really was. Today, we would say that cartoon went ‘viral’.

     Morris Michtom saw the drawing of Roosevelt and created a tiny soft bear cub and put it in the shop window with a sign “Teddy’s bear,” after Teddy Roosevelt gave his permission to use his name.   The toys were a huge success.   As a result Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. and became wealthy.

   A BBC program called “Witness” told this story recently.

 

 

 

Blue Collars Lose Ground – Don’t Blame Trade

By Shlomo Maital

 

     Led by the Trump Administration in the US, worldwide there is a counter-revolution against globalization. Right wing governments are being elected in Hungary, Italy, Austria, partly in Germany, and elsewhere, reacting against the ravages of globalization – particularly, the claim that blue collar workers are being scalped by it – by migrants (free flow of labor) and by trade (free flow of goods).

     America, which invented this amazing system that made many emerging economies wealthy (East Asia, primarily) now leads the charge against it.

     And this whole counter-revolution is based on a falsehood. Don’t blame trade. Blue collar woes have another primary cause, according to Harvard University Professor Elhanan Helpman, in his new book Globalization and Inequality. It was not primarily free trade (globalization) that caused the large gap between blue collar and white collar wages.

     Earlier, in 2016, Helpman published an NBER working paper * showing this (typically understated, as academic researchers are wont to do):

       Trade played an appreciable role in increasing wage inequality, but its cumulative effect has      

       been modest, …globalization does not explain the preponderance of the rise in wage inequality

            within countries.

   What, then, does explain it? Technology and productivity.

     Studies show that the premium for a college education (i.e. skilled workers) was 63%.   The blue collar/white collar wage gap results from basic supply and demand factors, “…the dominant cause was an increase in the relative demand for skilled workers”.

   OK – so who is to blame?   American political leadership, for failing to find ways to upgrade the skills of blue-collar workers, especially in America’s failing and failed educational system.   And, as New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks has noted – the educated elite simply ignored the plight of the non-educated elite – and the price they pay is the election of Donald Trump.

* Elhanan Helpman. “Globalization and wage inequality”.   NBER working paper 22944, Dec. 2016.

CRISPR Will Change Our Lives

By Shlomo Maital

   Some time ago, I wrote about a technology known as Blockchain that will undoubtedly change our lives – and has already. Blockchain is simply a way to record transactions, that is secure, unhackable and ‘disintermediated’ (no need for banks or other financial middlemen). It is now widely used to create digital money.

   Now comes CRISPR. It stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.     What is it? Simply, a way of editing genes – like we edit blogs or emails. Erase this group of words. Replace it with another, better one.   In the case of DNA: “Erase” (snip away) this (bad) piece of DNA, a gene that causes problems – and replace with a ‘good’ gene, that will not cause disease or problems.

   A palindrome is a word that reads the same forward and backward.   E.g. “civic”. So pieces of DNA are inserted into longer pieces, such that the inserted pieces read the same forward or backward, so it doesn’t matter which way they are inserted. The method originated with studying how viruses ‘snip’ DNA – and using viruses to do the same in constructive way.

     We now know the genetic causes of many diseases. But until now we have not had the ability to repair bad genes. Now CRISPR makes it possible. This will create an entirely new branch of medicine, immunotherapy, in which gene therapy is used to both treat illness, when identified, and mainly, to prevent it — an individual can now have his or her genome analyzed, and potential ‘bad’ genes identified. No point in doing this, so far, because there was no real way to ‘edit’ bad genes. Now, with CRISPR, there is.

     I would like to mention one of the scientists responsible for CRISPR, the young MIT scientist Feng Zhang. He was born in China and is only 36; he does research at the famous Broad (pronounced Brode) institute in Cambridge, MA. Increasingly bright foreign students are encountering US visa problems and are going elsewhere, e.g. Canada. It is America’s loss.

Girl Power: It Starts at Age 8

By Shlomo Maital

   As a constant listener to US Public Broadcasting, I recently heard an interview with two brilliant women, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, on their book The Confidence Code.*   As an educator for five decades, I’ve long believed that women have many superior qualities but are dominated by men, often less capable ones.

     In their book, says the back cover, “They visit the world’s leading psychologists who explain how we can all chose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and how those actions change our physical wiring. They interview women leaders from the worlds of politics, sports, the military, and the arts to learn how they have tapped into this elemental resource. They examine how a lack of confidence impacts our leadership, success, and fulfillment”.

   In the WBUR radio interview, Kay and Shipman observe that while girls have superior academic grades to boys in elementary and high school, the boys are encouraged to be bold risk-takers in their career choices, while girls are expected to provide ‘perfection’ and avoid risk.   The cover of boys’ magazines cite how to become an astronaut, excel in rugby, etc., while the girls’ magazines write about “your first kiss”.  

     I once led an outdoor leadership exercise for senior managers, men and women. They had to tackle a tough task. The men were stumped. Standing off to one side, “Michal” said quietly that she knew how to crack it. None of the men paid any attention. I stopped the group and forced them to listen. Michal reluctantly took the lead. And she led the exercise to perfection. This has happened to me countless times, in classroom settings – women know the answers, have the insights, but are reluctant to speak up. Gender bias is not only in wages. It starts at age 8, in the way we socialize our boys and girls. It has to stop!   The #Metoo movement, protesting male exploitation of women, is just a symptom of a deeper problem.

     I just wrote a column about how Israel’s Finance Minister intends to replace the female head of the Bank of Israel, and her deputy, also a woman, highly capable effective leaders, because they punctured his ego with truth-telling.

     This just has to stop. If we give more power to women, and taught them to empower themselves, we will have a better world. And it IS a matter of choice. As the authors note, “fewer people [i.e. women] e pleasing and perfectionism and more action, risk taking, and fast failure.”

* Katty Kay, Claire Shipman. The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self Assurance – what women should know Paperback. Harper Business 2015

 Infrastructure:  Europe, China – and America
By Shlomo  Maital 
 
    In Economics, there are not many principles we can cite with absolute certainty.  Here are two of them:
   1.  The rate of return on investment in Research and Development is in many cases astronomical.  In 1958 Prof. Zvi Griliches found that investing in research in hybrid corn “paid a return of at least 700 per cent”.   Few other social investments can rival this. Yet countries continue to underinvest in R&D.
   2.  The rate of return on investment in infrastructure (roads, transportation, communication, education) is equally astronomical.  Yet in the West countries continue to undersave and underinvest in infrastructure.
   The contrast between Europe, China – and the US under Trump is stark.
    The EU, not noted for bold innovation, is undertaking a huge infrastructure project that will link Malmo, a Scandinavian port, with Palermo, a port in Italy.  This project will help reduce the large gap between the wealthy Northern EU and the relatively poor Southern EU.  It will do much to knit the fractured EU together, in the wake of Brexit. 
     China has a bold vastly expensive program to build a new Silk Road, linking China with Europe, the Mideast and Africa.   The One Belt One Road initiative, now changed to “Belt and Road Initiative”   is, according to Wikipedia “one of the largest infrastructure and investment mega-projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, equivalent to 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the global GDP as of 2017.”
     And the US?   Well,  on a recent visit there, I used Waze (an application developed originally in Israel, now owned by Google) to navigate.  In the US,  Waze informs the driver of potholes. And, trust me – I heard about a LOT of potholes from Waze while driving in the eastern United states.  Some of them were big enough to swallow Trump’s ego.
      President Trump speaks often about infrastructure.  He has plans to fix it, including thousands of crumbling bridges. But here’s the catch.  The latest Trump tax cut put a huge hole in the government budget and added $1.5 trillion to the deficit.   So there is no money left for infrastructure investment.  The solution?  Trump thinks he can get private industry to finance it, using tax credits.
       This is science fiction.  Basic economics shows, the return on infrastructure investment is largely “social”,  that is,  not captured by private investors, but accruing in a diffuse manner to all of us.  So why would private money invest in it? 
         China, EU – and the US.  Another instance of how the US has become a Third World nation, and China, in the Third World, is becoming First World. 

The Era of False News: Why We All Must Think Critically
By Shlomo  Maital  
 
       Today’s New York Times (“False News Really Does Spread Like Wildfire”, by Steve Lohr)  asks a tough question:  “What if the scourge of false news …is not …[Russians or bots]?   What if the main problem is us?”
        People are the principle culprits. You and me.  This is the result of extensive MIT research of false news (they prefer that term to Trump’s ‘fake news’).   “True stories were rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 % of false stories were routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people. And it took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people”. 
       We humans are responsible.  Because false news is almost always more sensational, more livid, than true.  So we rush to share it.  The research of Sinan Aral, MIT Sloan School of Management, appeared in Science magazine.
        So what can you and I,  what MUST you and I, do?  I think it is simple.  Back to basics. Back to John Dewey.  Back to Einstein.   We have to learn again how to think.
          I have been a college professor for over 50 years.   In that time, did I teach my students, facts, concepts, tools?  Or did I teach them how to think critically, including about what I am telling them?   I don’t think I did a very job in training them in one of today’s most crucial skills, knowing to tell truth from falsehood. 
        Knowledge today has a short half-life.  And in any case, knowledge can be found quickly, by anyone, using digital tools.  But the ability to think, to sort fact from fiction, truth from lies —  that has a very long half life.   And that skill is the pillar of any democratic system.  Because otherwise , scoundrels can get elected by telling us lies – and they do it all the time now.   
        Increasingly, people watch media, conventional and social, only when they agree with what it tells them.  Critical thinking is anesthetized.   This has to stop.  We have to teach our kids to analyze, weigh, criticize, critique, challenge.  We have to teach ourselves.  In a world where this skill is more widespread, the Russians will simply draw a blank – and give up.   And in a world where Trump says to Canada’s PM:  “US has a trade deficit with Canada” (false),  and later gloats that he just made it up  (US has an overall trade surplus with Canada, it takes 3 seconds to check this),   when the leader of the Free World doesn’t care if what he says is true or false, not does his base,  it is incumbent upon us, every human being, to care a whole lot more.      

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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