Tag Archives: Perspective

Famous People Alive at the Same Time — Visualized!

One of the things that I’m passionate about when I compose new posts on here is offering some sort of new perspective or a fresh perspective. Naturally, these are my two most often used tags (perspective = 66, fresh perspective = 71). This means that, of the nearly 600 posts I’ve written, in 66 of them, one of the most apt words for describing the post is perspective. Similarly, for 71 of the posts, fresh perspective is one of the most apt phrases. Also:

The primary focus of this site is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the “Blind Men and the Elephant,” it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a ‘tusk’ or a ‘leg.’ Some of the topics include: psychology, business, technology, education, politics, philosophy, and even history.

In today’s post, let’s focus on that last word — history.

Within the last 6 months, I came across a post that made me think, “Yes — thank you for doing this!” The post is found on a website that is absolutely brilliant in its aim — Wait But Why. The title of the post — Horizontal History. A short excerpt:

Normally, we learn about history’s storylines in isolation. We might have a strong sense of the history of physics breakthroughs or the progression of western philosophical thought or the succession of French rulers—but we’re not as clear on how each of these storylines relate to each other. If you think of history like a tangle of vines growing upwards through time, studying one type of history at a time is like following the path of one particular vine while ignoring the other vines around it. It’s understanding history in a vertical sense.

And while vertical history has its merits, it doesn’t leave you with an especially complete picture of any one time. An econ buff in the year 2500 might know all about the Great Depression that happened in the early 20th century and the major recession that happened about 80 years later, but that same person might mistake the two world wars for happening in the 1800s or the 2200s if they’re a little hazy on the history of wars. So while an econ buff, that person would have a pretty poor understanding of what our modern times are all about. 

Likewise, I might know that Copernicus began writing his seminal work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in Poland in the early 1510s, but by learning that right around that same time in Italy, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, I get a better picture of the times. By learning that it was right while both of these things were happening that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in England, the 1510s suddenly begins to take on a distinct personality. These three facts, when put together, allow me to see a more three-dimensional picture of the 1510s—it allows me to see the 1510s horizontally, like cutting out a complete segment of the vine tangle and examining it all together.

What an innovative way to look at history, right? If you take the time to head over to the post, you’ll see that the author has a number of helpful graphics. I’m hesitant to include any in this post because I want to make sure you take the time to patronize that website. Just to take a moment to describe some of the more important ones: on the left side, you’ll find the year and then to the right, the author has charted the births/deaths of plenty of famous people throughout history. In this way, you’re able to see when certain famous people were alive at the same time.

After the author has done that, they’ve pulled out a number of “smaller” versions of these bigger graphics to talk a bit about some examples. For instance, there’s here’s a quick example:

Every time I look at the lifespan diagram, a new interesting horizontal pops out to me. Here’s one more: People in the US associate the 1860s with Lincoln and the Civil War. But what we overlook is that the 1860s was one of history’s greatest literary decades. In the ten years between 1859 and 1869, Darwin published his world-changing On the Origin of Species (1859), Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1861), Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland (1865), Dostoyevsky published Crime and Punishment (1866), and Tolstoy capped things off with War and Peace (1869). These guys were all in their primes at the same time. So was Lincoln. . .

I’ve spent at least a couple of different occasions looking through this graphic trying to place who was alive together. One of the interesting things I found was that much of Johann Sebastian Bach (certainly one of my favourite composers) and Benjamin Franklin’s lifespan overlapped and that Adam Smith’s (economics) lifespan is almost wholly contained within Benjamin Franklin’s (save for two months at the end of Smith’s life). In the philosophy world at this time, John Locke died when Bach was a teenager, Voltaire’s life mostly overlaps with Bach’s, and Kant was in his 20’s when Bach died. Oh, let’s not forget that Isaac Newton was in his 40’s when Bach was born and lived for about another 40 more years. And since I’ve started with Bach, I might as well tell you that Pachelbel was born about 30 years before Bach and Vivaldi was born before Bach by about 20 years.

A Brief History of Everything: Where Science and Spirituality Converge

In some fields, the deeper you get into them, the more the field seems to approach spirituality. A perfect example of this is science. No doubt, there’s already plenty written about the convergence of science and spirituality, especially if you take a walk through the “self-help” section of a bookstore. And that’s not to detract from it. For some, reading about science and spirituality in this way is very helpful.

Today, I wanted to share with you another one of those science and spirituality convergences, but from someone I didn’t expect: Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Note: when I first watched the video, I didn’t realize that deGrasse Tyson has actually written a fair amount about spirituality and science.) Below, I’ve included a video set to start at the 6:20 mark. Watch the next minute or so of the video, as deGrasse Tyson takes us on a quick journey from the beginning of time to the present and through it, connects the dots between us and the beginning of time.

I totally understand that people have different views on science, spirituality, and religiosity, but it always gives me pause for reflection when it can be so well articulated that there’s this connection between us and the beginning of time. From the video, we can conclude that we are made of the universe, so “technically,” we are the universe discovering itself. You probably already knew that, but I find that every one and awhile, it helps to be reminded of things like this as it may help to put a current problem in perspective.

Watching a video like this also reminds antiquity. In particular, places like ancient Greece where it might have been more common to sit around and think about the things that deGrasse Tyson talked about in the video. But I wonder… was it? If we think about our world today, the percentage of people who have time to sit around and think about things like those in ancient Greece did is probably not very high, but maybe that was also the case back then. Maybe there weren’t that many people who were sitting around and pontificating on the nature of life.

Maybe I’ve just got a glorified view of the “intellectuals” from that time period, but I wonder how different our Western culture would be today, if we had more time to sit around and think ponder the ‘meaning of life.’ Don’t get me wrong, I understand that time to think is a luxury that not all of us enjoy (and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the lucky ones for which time to think is a luxury), but in thinking about our consumeristic ways, part of me wonders how different we could be in a world where we pursued knowledge and not stuff.

Board Diversity Paramount for Achieving Corporate Benefits

Earlier this year, there was some interesting research published about board diversity, as it relates to achieving corporate benefits. Specifically:

Board diversity improves governance and product development especially in firms led by White men CEOs. There are at least two important implications of these findings. First, we have no evidence that firms with White CEOs and diverse boards experience greater conflict than other firms due to distrust, lack of social similarity, or resultant communication barriers. Indeed, it appears that the presence of ethnic diversity on the governing body only advances strong corporate governance.

I should clarify that the researchers acknowledged the limitations of their findings because they limited their sample to Fortune 500 companies. The second implication:

Diverse leaders may bring perspectives, priorities, and ideas to organizations that significantly affect organizational trajectories. In particular, minority leaders at the board level affect the likelihood that a firm will pursue strong governance and effective product development. This strongly supports the business case for diversity. Our findings also suggest that relative numbers and influence on the board in conjunction with the CEO matter for realizing the benefits of diversity. Both the percentage of minorities on the board and the presence of influential minorities significantly impact governance and product innovation when traditional leaders serve as CEOs.

This is certainly not the first study published about the importance of board diversity, but I find this one particularly interesting because it puts things in the context of corporate benefits, which is something that I would think might be more likely to motivate action.

The researchers also draw attention to a specific avenue for further research: top management teams. I would suspect that we might find a similar effect, with regard to diversity, when studying the composition of top management teams. The importance being that different perspectives are represented and diversity is one of the ways to do that. It could be, however, that this same effect doesn’t hold when analyzing the level of top management teams, which would then increase the importance of having diversity within board composition.

ResearchBlogging.orgCook, A., & Glass, C. (2014). Do minority leaders affect corporate practice? Analyzing the effect of leadership composition on governance and product development Strategic Organization, 13 (2), 117-140 DOI: 10.1177/1476127014564109

Attraversiamo: Creativity and Perspective

Chances are, when you leave the house or you leave the office, you take the same route home. All. The. Time. If you’re in a car, you may have to change your route because of construction or traffic, but it’s pretty much the same. If you’re walking (or walking to the bus/metro/subway/etc.), you’re probably looking to get there as quickly as you can, so you’ve learned which parking lots to cut across and which alleys are safe. That’s absolutely a great reason to continually take the same route — efficiency is useful when you’re in a hurry and who isn’t in a hurry these days? In fact, you’re probably so good at taking the same route that often times, you don’t even realize that you’ve passed 4 or 5 blocks. For those of you who drive, there’s the idea that you get in your car at home and all of a sudden, you find yourself at work, but you have no recollection of actually driving yourself to work.

I wonder… have you ever considered walking on the other side of the street?

I’ve written quite a bit trying to encourage you take a new perspective or to take a fresh perspective, but for some people, that’s a bit ethereal. So, I was trying to imagine some very tangible ways that I could suggest to illustrate the ‘power’ of taking a different perspective. While I think taking a different perspective is extremely important when it comes to making important decisions, training one’s self to realize the value of a new perspective seems like it might be helpful, too.

I want to propose an experiment. I’d like you to, the next time you leave the house (or work), walk on the other side of the street. You’ve probably walked down the same side of the street hundreds, if not thousands of times, and I predict that if you walk on the other side of the street, you’re going to see your environment from a new perspective. Now, categorically, of course you’ll have a different perspective because you’re occupying a different vector of space and time, but forget about that aspect for a second and take a chance. This is such a tiny ask — walking on the other side of the street will do little to inconvenience you during your day, but it could do wonders for you in highlighting a tangible example of how taking a different perspective could allow you to see things differently.

If you need more reasons to convince you to try this tiny experiment then consider that it could help you solve that problem you’ve been working on for the last few days. There’s some research that suggests [can’t seem to locate it at the moment] putting yourself in new environments is a way to spark one’s creativity. By making these new connections in your environment, it could spark new connections for the things that have been ‘keeping you up at night.’

Saving For Retirement — As Simple As Counting in Days

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the problems with saying “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes.” It turns out, there’s now research that — in a way — supports the point I was trying to make.

In this study, the researchers attempted to draw closer the connection between our present selves and our future selves. In particular, they looked at how manipulating the unit used to convey time (days, months, and years) can have an effect on that connection between our present selves and future selves. In plain language, consider the time between now and when you retire. It may be, what, 30, 20, 15, or 10 years away? For those of you closer to 25 years from retirement, that might sound like a long ways away (actually, it’s really not). Have you started saving for retirement? Oh, right, retirement savings, yeah, I’ll start next year.

That attitude right there, the attitude that our “future selves” are far away (when in actuality, they’re not), that’s what the researchers were targeting. From the researchers [Emphasis Added]:

We found that people say they will start saving four times sooner if told how many days rather than how many years they have until their child goes to college or until they want to retire. […] Considering one’s retirement or one’s child’s college education in days rather than years leads people to experience more connection between their present and future selves, which makes the identities linked to these future selves (e.g., “retiree”) feel more congruent with their current self. This reduces the extent that people discount future over current rewards. Less discounting means that saving for the future may feel less painful.

So, when we think about future events in a unit that is more relevant to us (days vs. years), we’re more likely to feel a connection to those future events and by extension, our future selves.


Let’s circle back to my post from a few years ago about 300 seconds:

As a way around this — sometimes — I like to use the term “300 seconds.” Why 300 seconds? Well, 300 seconds is the same amount of time as 5 minutes. (Weird, eh?) But it sounds different, doesn’t it? Similarly, if I’m going to need more than 5 minutes, say 10 minutes, I might say 600 seconds.

To piggyback this research, I’d be interested to see results of a study that looked at our perception of time in an even smaller unit of measurement. For things like retirement and college savings, years to days makes sense, but what about for something that’s going to be happening in less than 5 years or something that will be happening in a few months?

Let’s say we’re hosting a conference in 3 months and we need to get things in order for it. Three months isn’t that far away, but thinking about it in months might not give us the necessary urgency. What if we thought about it in weeks? Twelve. Days? 90. Hours? 2160. Minutes? 129,600.

Ok, so minutes is probably too finite a measurement for this analogy, but I think you get the point. Changing the unit of measurement certainly has an effect on our perspective of future events.

ResearchBlogging.orgLewis, N., & Oyserman, D. (2015). When Does the Future Begin? Time Metrics Matter, Connecting Present and Future Selves Psychological Science, 26 (6), 816-825 DOI: 10.1177/0956797615572231

Is “A” Really the Best Option or is it Just that It’s Better Than “B”: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 18

The other day, someone was talking to me about my series on biases in judgment and decision-making and it made me realize that I was missing a rather important bias — the contrast effect! I’m not sure how this one slipped through the cracks, but I’m glad to be able to write about it for you today.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote something for this series, so let me refresh your memory. Each week, I took a cognitive bias and explained it. I provided an example and then I offered some ways for mitigating that cognitive bias in your own life. So, without further adieu, the contrast effect.

What’s the contrast effect? Well, as with many of the biases, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an effect that occurs because of a comparison. That is, people are more likely to perceive differences that are bigger or smaller because of something they’ve seen first. This is something that is used in sales — all — the — time. If you’re shopping for a new car, the salesperson may show a series of cars that are way out of your price range and then show you one that’s just a little out of your price range. After having seen so many cars that are way out of your price range, the one that’s just a little out of your price range won’t seem that far out of your price range. The contrast effect.

That’s not to pick on folks who sell cars, it can even happen with smaller purchases, shoes, for instances. Let’s say you’re looking for a particular kind of footwear. The salesperson may show you a bunch of shoes that don’t quite fit your needs and happen to be priced rather cheaply. Then, the salesperson shows you a shoe that does fit your needs, but is quite a bit more expensive. As you’ve seen all these shoes that aren’t what you need and now you’ve finally come to one that meets you’re needs, you may ignore the price and buy the shoes.

One of my favourite examples of the contrast effect comes from Dan Ariely‘s book, Predictably Irrational:

One day while browsing the World Wide Web (obviously for work-not just wasting time), I stumbled on the following ad, on the Web site of a magazine, the Economist.


I read these offers one at a time. The first offer-the Internet subscription for $59 seemed reasonable. The second option-the $125 print subscription-seemed a bit expensive, but still reasonable.

But then I read the third option: a print and Internet subscription for $125. I read it twice before my eye ran back to the previous options. Who would want to buy the print option alone, I wondered, when both the Internet and the print subscriptions were offered for the same price? Now, the print- only option may have been a typographical error, but I suspect that the clever people at the Economist‘s London offices (and they are clever-and quite mischievous in a British sort of way) were actually manipulating me. I am pretty certain that they wanted me to skip the Internet- only option (which they assumed would be my choice, since I was reading the advertisement on the Web) and jump to the more expensive option: Internet and print.

But how could they manipulate me? I suspect it’s because the Economist‘s marketing wizards (and I could just picture them in their school ties and blazers) knew something important about human behavior: humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly. (For instance, we don’t know how much a six- cylinder car is worth, but we can assume it’s more expensive than the four- cylinder model.)

In the case of the Economist, I may not have known whether the Internet- only subscription at $59 was a better deal than the print- only option at $125. But I certainly knew that the print and-Internet option for $125 was better than the print- only option at $125. In fact, you could reasonably deduce that in the combination package, the Internet subscription is free! “It’s a bloody steal-go for it, governor!” I could almost hear them shout from the riverbanks of the Thames. And I have to admit; if I had been inclined to subscribe I probably would have taken the package deal myself. (Later, when I tested the offer on a large number of participants, the vast majority preferred the Internet- and- print deal.)

Before we movie into some of the ways for avoiding the Contrast Effect, I wanted to make it clear that sales isn’t the only place where this bias can creep up on us. Another good example is in evaluations (be they interviewing job candidates or marking term papers). If one doesn’t have a rubric by which one is scoring candidates (or papers), it can be easy to slip into the contrast effect: “Well, that candidate was much better than the last candidate, let’s put them through to the next round.” It could be that the latter candidate, while better than the first, still doesn’t meet your criteria to make it the next round, so putting them through would be wasting valuable resources — both yours and theirs.

Ways for Avoiding the Contrast Effect

1) Standardized Evaluation

In our most recent case involving interview candidates or term papers, creating a rubric or standardized method of evaluation prior to examining candidates/papers will go a long way to help one avoid falling into the trap of the contrast effect. This method could also be applied when it comes to shopping (i.e. sales). For instance, let’s say you’re looking for a car. Prior to arriving at the dealership, you could create a table for how you’re going to evaluate the cars you view while at the dealership. In this way, you can guard against the salesperson knowingly (or unknowingly) showing you cars at either end of the spectrum before showing you the cars you might actually purchase.

2) Are There Other Options?

Often times, when we’re succumbing to the contrast effect, we’re looking at option A versus option B. This is why it’s so important to have some sort of standardized evaluation (see #1), but short of a standardized evaluation, it’s important to remember that almost never are those two options your only two options. “Should I get this car or that car?” Well actually, you have another option — neither of those cars. And another option, you could consider buying a bike or maybe taking public transportation. Whenever you find yourself faced with a decision between two options, it can be useful to consider other options, just in case you’ve fallen into the trap of the contrast effect.

Note: the images in this post are all examples of the contrast effect.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:

A Lesson in Overcomplicated: Gender-Neutral Washrooms

If you’ve ever been part of an organization, there’s a better chance than not that you’ve been involved in a meeting where at some point, you found yourself thinking, “what the heck are we doing?” Well, hopefully you’ve found yourself saying that, otherwise you might have fallen into the trap of overcomplicating something.

There was a great (and short!) post on Pacific Standard about the “problem” of a sign for a gender-neutral bathroom:

“But what would you put on the door?!” said a facility manager at an airport, his concern echoed by an administrator at a university: “When people are looking for a restroom, they look for the ‘man’ or ‘woman’ icon. It’s what we know to look for that means restroom.”

And the sign that answers this problem:

Wow, right?

This situation is a perfect example of how overthinking something can lead to a terrible and overcomplicated solution. Is this sign really necessary to signify that there’s a toilet behind the door (or around the corner, in the case of many airports)? Absolutely not.

While there are many problems we can talk about, let’s look at the key issue: false dilemma. Presumably, upon trying to to develop a solution to this problem, the people in the meeting thought that something had to be added to the existing sign. That is, the sign is usually a little man or a little woman, so we’ve got to make it resemble that little man or woman or people might be confused. There are clearly more options than creating that weird looking sign. From the post, there’s this sign offered:

That seems like a pretty good alternative to me. It’s universal in that many people know what a toilet looks like. To be sure, the person who came up with the idea of this pictorial representation took his laptop to a coffee shop to ask patrons if they could hazard a guess as to what was being the sign: 100% of participants were able to identify what would be behind a door with this sign on it. The author, obviously in jest, explained that his research was limited to a corner in Philadelphia, but I think it’s safe to say that most people would be able to perform as well as his participants.

So, the next time you’re in a meeting where your team is trying to come up with an idea that uses an existing structure/idea, double-check that it might not be better to approach the problem from a different perspective.