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Free Range Parenting: The Opposite of Helicopter Parenting
By Shlomo Maital   


   
  So, I guess I am more or less a dinosaur.  I was born in November 1942, grew up in Regina, Saskatchewan, in a quiet neighborhood, and I spent hours and hours outside, playing with friends and looking at bugs and frogs in the creek that ran through the neighborhood, a couple of hundred yards from my home.  I came home only toward dark, and in the long summer days   twilight lasted for hours.   
   My mother and father were concerned parents, and made me wear long scratchy wool underwear in the winter.  But guess what.  They let me play outside, unsupervised.  And that’s what all the kids did.   And it made childhood delightful.
    Today, this behavior is regarded as an aberration, and in some cases, illegal. On WBUR public radio, a mother reported being accosted by a police officer, for leaving her small boy in the car for a few moments while buying something in a store.  
    The approved parenting model is in many cases that of a helicopter parent, who hovers over children and protects them from any possible risk, injury, scrape or problem.    Children have arranged structured play-dates and activity circles.  
    A decade ago,  Lenore Skenazy wrote a  book,  Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.   An organization by that name today helps parents fight back against helicopter parenting, and make their children sturdy and independent.   One simple approach:  Give kids assignments or projects, and turn them loose to tackle them, after teaching them safety rules for using tools.  
    The world today is dangerous – probably more dangerous than in prehistoric times when I was a kid.  It is natural to react to it by trying much harder to protect our children. But in doing so, we are taking away a vital crucial life skill – independence, self-confidence, self-assurance. 
    There must be a way to keep kids safe, without robbing them of this skill.  And there must be a way of avoiding having police arrest parents who do this.   

 

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 Draw Your Riskometer

By Shlomo Maital

Tina Seelig’s Riskometer

Tina Seelig is a Stanford University professor, who teaches creativity and innovation. In a TED salon talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/tina_seelig_the_little_risks_you_can_take_to_increase_your_luck

   She shows us how to change the way we relate to risk, and to luck. It all starts with leaving our comfort zone – being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And that, in turn, relates to taking risks…taking chances. But first, we need to look deeply into ourselves.

   So to do this, try Seelig’s riskometer. Draw a circle. Place on the circumference, six ‘realms”, or types of risk (financial, intellectual, social, political, emotional, physical.   On the spoke, mark the place where your risk appetite resides…’high’, close to the circumference, ‘low’, close to the center.

   Now – carefully consider, how you can improve your risk appetite, for realms where you are risk averse – and stuck in yourcomfort zone.

     Creativity is risky. It involves taking chances. The more comfortable you are with this, the more willing you will be, to come up with innovative ideas and, most important, to try them.

   By the way, the riskometer diagram above is Tina Seelig’s own. She needs some work on physical and financial risk. Tina – try sky diving. And,   buy a few Tesla shares….

Good News for Bad Knees

By Shlomo Maital

 

Surgeons Inserting a Cartiheal Device

   A great many people, especially the elderly, need hip and knee replacements. One million such replacements are done annually in the US. The operation has become common, ever since the May Clinic pioneered it in 1971. Some 7.2 million Americans are living today with knee and hip implants. Those numbers grow, as Americans age.

   There is no doubt that replacing worn knee and hip joints has given many far better quality of life. But there are also problems associated with implants. There can be infection, and the replacement joints can wear out, requiring another painful operation; many elderly people are not quite up to that.

     Now comes a team of creative Israeli researchers. A startup called CartiHeal has developed an implant known as Agili-C, that replaces human cartilage and induces torn and worn cartilage to rebuild and regrow. In the past few days, the first surgery in Israel to insert the implant was done at Hadassah Medical Center, Mt. Scopus, Israel (see photo). The surgery was done by Dr. Adi Friedman, head of arthroscopic surgery for sport injuries.   Friedman said:

     “The need for an implant that can foster regrowth of cartilage that has been damaged is a real medical need, the world of orthopedic surgery has been anxiously awaiting it. We hope our experiment will succeed, and that the implant will become a breakthrough that we have awaited for many years!”

     CartiHeal is an Israeli startup founded by Nir Altschuler in 2009, in cooperation with Ben Gurion University. The CartiHeal implant has CE approval in Europe (their equivalent of America’s FDA) and will soon begin clinical trials for FDA approval.

     The CartiHeal cartilage implant has been used widely in Europe, treating some 400 patients with success. By getting the knee or hip to regenerate its own cartilage, the need for a replacement implant (when the artificial knee or hip joint wears out) is obviated. And of course, the body’s own cartilage is far superior to that of an artificial implant.

       CartiHeal’s website opens the possibility of joining a clinical trial.

 

Baby Bust – Why?

By Shlomo Maital

 Why are married couples in the West having fewer children? What is the underlying cause of the “baby bust”?  I was born in 1942, at nearly the bottom of the fertility decline driven by the Depression and World War. Good thing for me my mother and father believed in the future, however bleak it looked at the time. (The graph shows babies per 1000 persons, in the US, from around 1910 to 2010.)

       A study of 1,858 men and women aged 20-45, in the U.S., was published in the New York Times, July 7-8 (international edition).   For those who said they “expected to have fewer children than they thought ‘ideal’ “   here are the main reasons:

     Child care is too expensive (64%), want more time for the children I have (54%), worried about the economy (49%), can’t afford more children (44%), worried because of financial instability (42%), not enough paid family leave (39%).

     (Of course, the numbers add up to more than 100% — most respondents cited more than one reason).

     The conclusion is, as the heading of the article states, “Baby bust rooted in economics”. Somehow, couples in the US (and probably, in Europe and Japan, and China as well) feel that children are too costly.

     Demographers know that the ‘demographic transition’ (sharp fall in fertility as countries grow wealthier) happens everywhere. But the ‘baby bust’ has followed a huge baby boom, that brought economic growth to the US.   Baby busts do the opposite.

     I would not be on this earth, if my mother and father had said, times are tough, we just came out of a Depression, we can’t afford another child, and besides, there is terrible war, how can you bring babies into such a world?   Instead, they looked to the future with hope and optimism.

      My own country Israel defies the trend. We are having a baby boom. Fertility rates have risen, for nearly all segments of society. Israel has 180,000 babies yearly. They bring us happiness and hope for the future. Why? Our young people believe babies are ‘cool’.

   How is it, that today, when people are relatively affluent, they feel too poor to have babies, when in the past, when people were relatively poor, they felt affluent enough to have children, whatever the state of the world?

   I am puzzled.

        

 

 

 

The Happiness Tree
By Shlomo Maital 

                                          
   In the Bible,  Adam and Eve taste the forbidden fruit (the ‘apple’,  which represents knowledge, by some interpretations) and are banished forever from Eden.
    In the October 2017 issue of American Psychologist *,  Michelle Shiota and colleagues summarize what we know currently about the sources of happiness and  discrete positive emotions, based on neuroscience.  They ask, and in part answer:  What REALLY makes us happy?  They summarize the answer in the form  a tree – not the Tree of Knowledge but the Tree of Happiness.
     The tree trunk is “enthusiasm”.  That means —  When we lack purpose in life, when our energy levels are depleted, when we sink into apathy,  we cannot reach the tree branches where happiness resides.  Enthusiasm is the core.
       The five thick branches are neurotransmitters:  Serotonin, testosterone, oxytocin, cannabinoids, and opioids.  Alas, the last 3 have become drugs driven underground, with opioids killing thousands yearly in the US, and testosterone is a drug banned for use in performance-enhancement in sports.   But the leafy branches show that happiness is not a single simple dimension but has several key components:  Pride, sexual desire, nurturant love, contentment, awe, amusement, attachment love, gratitude, and liking/pleasure.  
     Apparently, when we are happy, there is a complex interaction of the neurotransmitters and related systems, throughout the brain.
     I think this simple tree has a message.  Want to be happy?  First – stay positive.  Find sources for enthusiasm, and motivation – based on meaning – make meaning in your life.  Then – Do things you are proud of.  Leverage them for contentment.  Find someone to love, nurture their love and build your attachment.   It can bring pleasure in itself and through sexual desire.  Maintain a sense of awe and wonder.  Be grateful for what you have, however little (or much).   Find sources of amusement.
    It is an immense tragedy that so many find “dopaminergic reward” by taking drugs, rather than by living well.  Why do we not try to teach our children about true happiness,  no less important than spelling and geography?  
     Many fortunate people have found that the ‘high’ you get from being up in the Happiness Tree is more deeply satisfying than the artificial kind that can kill you. 
    *  Shiota, Michelle N., et al. “Beyond happiness: Building a science of discrete positive emotions.” American Psychologist 72.7 (2017): 617. 
  

Snow Capped Idea Volcanoes:

Creativity of the Elderly

Shlomo Maital

 

     A mind is a terrible thing to waste.   Are we wasting the creative minds of our seniors?   Is the wrong-headed assumption that creativity is entirely the domain of young minds depriving the world of revolutionary ideas? As countries in the West and East alike age, will we marginalize all those senior minds — and waste a precious resource?  

     Consider my own example.   I requested, and received, early retirement from my university employer, in 2001. I was then able to help lead a management institute that worked with many global high-tech companies and startups. I learned how to help them diagnose their core problems and make their organizations consistently innovative. I then wrote down what I learned in a dozen books, that I wrote, co-authored and edited, almost one a year.   I became a snow-capped idea volcano – and completed the Boston Marathon when I was 63.   And today, at 75.5 (the decimal was supplied by an Asian nation, when I applied for a visa) I am working on a collection of short stories titled “What If? The Willing Suspension of Disbelief”.

       And best of all, I got to meet and study a very large number of creative individuals, snow-capped like me, whose ideas were validated and activated and created enormous value. I could have opted for a rocking chair, which is what society often prescribes for seniors. Luckily I chose the ‘volcano’ alternative.

       We know a lot about the aging brain. It works a bit slower. It doesn’t remember things that well. But it does have an ephemeral quality called wisdom – the quality of having the magical mixture of knowledge, experience and judgment. I cannot count the number of startup ideas I’ve seen, that embody magical technology, to satisfy a non-existent need. Senior brains avoid that trap.

         Here is just one example, that I wrote about in my innovation blog a year ago:

     John Goodenough and his team at University of Texas (Austin) “has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity”, writes Pagan Kennedy, in the New York Times.   “He and his team filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works, as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles.    

     This is not Goodenough’s first invention. At age 57 he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package; such batteries now exist in nearly all devices at home and at work.  OK – another genius. Nice. But what is unusual about Goodenough?   His age.   He is 94 years old.

   The thing is, we have known for many centuries that senior brains are highly productive and creative. Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps history’s single most creative individual, was making breakthrough discoveries in hydraulics and anatomy when he was 57, in 1509 (in those days, old age!) and when he was 62, a year before his death, he was making plans to drain the Pontine Marshes in Italy.

     Often, the first step toward breakthrough ideas is smashing an iconic sacred-cow assumption. Let’s discard forever the assumption that only fresh young brains are creative. Let’s tell our seniors, we need your ideas, built on your wisdom and your experience. And then, let’s harvest the crop of world-changing ideas erupting from all those snow-capped idea volcanoes.

 

The Root of Cruelty & Violence: Low Empathy

By Shlomo Maital

   At times, it just does not pay to watch the news or read the newspaper. The boundaries of human violence and cruelty to fellow humans keep getting pushed to more and more outrageous levels.  

     But why?   What is the root of this cruelty and violence?   Our Bible (Old Testament) says explicitly, “I [God] dwell within each of you”.   How can we harm other human beings in any way, when God himself resides in every human being?

       I found an answer in the January 2018 issue of National Geographic.[1] There is a part of our brain that is active when we empathize with others. Empathy means “I feel precisely as you feel”, as opposed to sympathy, which means “I am sorry you are feeling badly”.   If you have empathy for others, you cannot harm them, because when you do, you physically harm yourself and feel pain.

       Why have the empathy centers of our brains become clogged and decayed? I don’t know. It is deeply painful, for instance, when my own country Israel, which I love deeply, forcibly expels African migrants, when the Jewish people have suffered so much from such expulsions and worse. The empathy centers of Israeli political leaders have atrophied.

     What is the solution?   Let each of us look inward, deeply, and examine our own empathy centers. Here below is a short version of an EQ (empathy quotient) test. [2]  EQ I think is far more important for humanity than IQ. Indeed, some people with astronomical IQ have below-zero EQ. Alas. How do you score on EQ? Has our IQ gotten out of synch with our EQ?

       Perhaps the endlessly repeated terrifying images of violence have dulled our EQ and made it atrophy. Let each of us rebuild our empathy.   In our own lives, and in our own small ways, let us regain empathy toward others. At least, it’s a start.

  1. I can easily tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation.
  2. I really enjoy caring for other people.
  3. In a conversation, I tend to focus on my own thoughts rather than on what my listener might be thinking.
  4. I find it easy to put myself in somebody else’s shoes.
  5. I am good at predicting how someone will feel.
  6. I am quick to spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
  7. Other people tell me I am good at understanding how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
  8. When I talk to people, I tend to talk about their experiences rather than my own.
  9. I get upset if I see people suffering on news programs.
  10. Friends usually talk to me about their problems as they say that I am very understanding.

[1] National Geographic. “Anatomy of Empathy”. Jan. 2018, pp. 128-131.

[2] S Baron-Cohen, S Wheelwright. The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation Of Adults With Asperger Syndrome Or High Functioning Autism, And Normal Sex Differences. 34(2): J Autism Dev Disord 163-75. 2004.

How to Change Your World With Ideas
By Shlomo Maital

Kavala Greece
During the week of May 13-20,  2018,   I will offer a course on “How to Change Your World With Ideas”,  at a lovely spot,  Kavala Greece.   I would be happy if you would join me there.   Check it out at this URL:   unboundprometheus.com
Here is a short description of my proposed course:  How to Change Your World With Ideas
Consider this.  Some 98% of five-year-old children score “genius level” on a standard creativity test.   At age 10, only 32% reach ‘genius’.  At age 15: 10%.  At age 30:  2%.     Creativity-driven Apple has created more wealth (over $1 trillion) in 40 years than oil-based Exxon Mobil has in 90 years.   Why then is  society destroying what may be its main resource – ideas?
I believe most adults perceive that their creative juices have diminished since childhood.  But few of us know why, or how to remedy this.  There is an internal paradox in creativity.  Generating ideas demands that we smash all constraints and employ soaring head-in-the-clouds imagination. Yet unless we have an orderly feet-on-the-ground process for doing so,  we forego the second half of the definition of creativity:  “novel” and “useful”.   Creativity requires ideation, validation,  and actuation.  Each of these three steps employs a different mindset.
This course begins with the proposition that “everyone can” – everyone can generate an endless stream of creative ideas.  The brain is a kind of muscle – it gets stronger with exercise.   In this 5-day course, I will offer participants a variety of components, that together can be assembled into a ‘personal creativity machine’ (PCM) – a highly individualized process that produces a stream of highly creative ideas,  ones that  change your own world and possibly change the whole world.  Like fingerprints, no two PCM’s are identical.
Our 12 hours together will end with each participant constructing his or her PCM – and turning it on, with no ‘off’ button.

Marshall Plan: 70 Years

By Shlomo Maital

   Almost 70 years ago, Gen. (retired) Herbert Marshall gave the commencement address at Harvard University, on June 5, 1947. No such address then or now has had a greater impact. In his talk Marshall, a retired five-star general, offered war-torn war-destroyed Europe generous financial aid, $11-$13 b. (in today’s dollars, about $130 b., or 1.5% of the US GDP then). It was offered to Russia and Eastern Europe, too.

     There was only one condition, Marshall said. Europe has to decide how to divide the money among the member countries. If America decides, there will endless bickering.

     Marshall’s talk was broadcast on the BBC.   British foreign secretary Ernest Bevan heard it, and at once called his French counterpart. A meeting was quickly convened in Paris, a committee was launched, and the wheels were set in motion. The aid soon flowed. The rest is history. Without those resources, European recovery would have taken far far longer, and the German economic miracle would not have happened.   Never in history has a winning nation paid money to the losing nation in war (compare with the Treaty of Versailles, when Britain and France stripped Germany bare, in war reparations for World War I, and directly led to World War II and the rise of the Nazis).

     There is a key lesson in the Marshall Plan, which stands in stark contrast to modern Trumpism.   Marshall Plan indeed put “America First” – but how? By perceiving that only if Europe achieved strong economic recovery, built on market economics but with a strong social component, would Europe remain friends with America. And that was America’s vital interest.   Do you help yourself, by screwing your friends, or by helping them? It’s that simple.

     Today, economists call the Marshall Plan “incentive compatible”. That is, it is a plan that built-in encourages those it intends to help, to engage in constructive appropriate behavior. In the case of Europe: Stop squabbling, and start cooperating. This led directly or indirectly to the European Union.

       We need more plans that are incentive-compatible. Sometimes, what seems like altruism – helping others – is actually exceedingly self-serving. That was the secret of the Marshall Plan.

       And Marshall? He was a five-star general, a genius at organization, deeply bitter and frustrated because President Roosevelt would not send him over to Europe to fight, but instead kept him home to organize the 8 million US troops sent to fight. I need you here, said FDR.   As Secretary of State, Marshall brought great wisdom and skill to the job. The Plan he initiated is his immense legacy, one that changed the world forever.

 

Understanding Trump: Dunning-Kruger Cognitive Bias

By Shlomo Maital

     Having trouble understanding President Trump?   Read thousands of words and columns, blasting Trump, but you still (like me) do not understand who IS this guy?

     Read David Brooks (Op Ed, New York Times, May 15)….   He has figured it out. Trump has a syndrome. Dunning Kruger Cognitive Bias.

       What is it?   Here is the definition: *

     Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error.

     Meaning?   Incompetent people think they are more competent than they are, precisely because…they are incompetent. Trump highly overestimates his abilities (“best speech ever to Congress on healthcare”,   “how to fix America’s aircraft carriers”, etc.).

       People with Dunning-Kruger, who lead nations, are very very dangerous. Not knowing is one thing. Not knowing you don’t know is quite another. And when you lead the world’s most powerful, wealthy nation?   Disaster. Moreover, people around Trump cannot control him, and are fired abruptly when they oppose him, a corollary of Dunning-Kruger.  Trump is at the summit of Mount Stupid (see diagram), and since January 20, has proven to be there with blunders almost daily.

       What will happen?   Let’s see if America’s constitution and political institutions are capable and resilient enough to deal with this disastrous cognitive bias.

 

* Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 77(6), Dec 1999, 1121-1134.

 

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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