Monthly Archives: May 2013

Goofy Research Projects?

scientist- inventor-dreamstime_4089679-smallerI remember sitting in my research class studying about how to do good research. We looked at several studies and tried to decide what was good and what was bad about each them. Then we looked at one in which all 7 hypotheses were disproved. Every single one was wrong! Our professor asked us if this was a good research project or not. We replied, “No.”

His response was surprising because he shared that this research was just as valid because the point of scientific research is to add to knowledge. Finding something that is NOT true adds just as much to knowledge as making a discovery that is true.

Just as valid is research that has no real-world application. If it adds to knowledge, then it is a good study. In that spirit, I share a 3 studies that you might find interesting and seem to be a little bit goofy.

Getting Old, Smoking, and Drinking

Here is one recent study: “Individuals Who Drink Heavily and Smoke May Show ‘Early Aging’ of the Brain.”

Really?! People had to spend time and research money to find this out? At least it must have been easy to find participants (read: free booze and cigs.)

The great breakthrough that was discovered in this study was that old age, heavy smoking, and heavy drinking all contributed to cognitive decline. Boy am I glad they cleared that up!

How Zebrafish Remember

In another study entitled, “Imaging of Neural Ensemble for the Retrieval of a Learned Behavioral Program,” scientists used calcium imaging to study the brain of the zebrafish to see how the fish stored and retrieved memories.

Groundbreaking, I must admit! But do I really care how a fish remembers? What would a fish have to remember anyway? It’s not like he has to remember the directions to the corner store to buy booze and cigarettes.

Let Sleeping Flies Lie

In another study that was just published, researchers were trying to better understand the sleeping rhythms of the fruit fly. They did this by messing up one of the genes in the fruit fly which made it very difficult for the flies to wake up on a regular schedule. I have a lot of friends with that same problem, but it might go back to the heavy smoking and drinking issue, I don’t know.

Not So Goofy

Fortunately, each of these three studies I mentioned earlier do actually have real-world applications to actual human beings.

The old age, smoking, and drinking study actually gave some clues as to why smoking and drinking cause cognitive decline and showed that even one month spent not smoking and not drinking helped learning, memory, processing speed, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. This is important to helping people see the need to stop smoking and drinking. Okay, not goofy.

The zebrafish memory experiment is important because the human brain is too complex to study with current technology and the fish brain help scientists understand the brain, even ours, better. So it really is helpful to people. Again, not goofy.

The sleeping fruit fly experiment is important because the same gene probably has an effect on the sleep habits of humans as well. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from this research is, “I like to say that flies sleep similarly to humans, except flies don’t use pillows.” This, too, has application to people in the real world. Not goofy.

The Bottom Line

I really have just two points today. 1.)  Modern research can be very interesting reading; and 2.) when we hear about goofy research, sometimes there really is something important behind it which will eventually help us as real live human beings. Right on, researchers!

5 Monkeys, a Ladder, and A Bunch of Bananas of my favorite research projects involves five monkeys, a ladder, and a bunch of bananas.

The experiment involved putting five monkeys into a cage with bananas hanging from the ceiling. Directly under the bananas was a ladder that the monkeys could climb to get the bananas. The only catch was as soon as a monkey would start to climb the ladder the entire cage would be sprayed with cold water.

Soon the monkeys made the connection between climbing the ladder and being sprayed with cold water. Whenever one of the monkeys would try to get to the bananas the other four monkeys would pull him off the ladder to keep from getting doused.

After this behavior was established the researchers removed one monkey and replaced him with a new monkey that knew nothing about being sprayed with water. Of course, he immediately went to the ladder and begin to go for the bananas. As soon as he would start to climb, the other four monkeys would grab him and pull him off the ladder. Soon the new monkey learned that it was wrong to climb the ladder, although he had no idea why.

One-by-one, all of the original monkeys were replaced with 5 “new” monkeys.

Finally, one of the “new” monkeys was replaced with a “newer” monkey. Sure enough, when the newer monkey would try to climb the ladder to get to the bananas, the monkeys would tackle him and keep him from climbing. The interesting thing is that by now none of the original monkeys were in the cage, so none of them knew about getting sprayed with cold water or why they shouldn’t climb the ladder. All they knew is that it was wrong to try to get the bananas.

So it is with culture. We do the same thing with national culture, company culture, family culture, or one of the other sub-cultures we all are a part of. We do and say things that at one time were very important and had great meaning, but now we just do them out of habit and tradition.

The 5-monkey experiment encourages me to challenge my culture and my automatic actions and responses. It dares me to think through what I’m doing, and more importantly, why I’m doing it.

Maybe I should climb the ladders and eat the bananas; maybe I shouldn’t. But at least I need to understand why or why not eating the bananas is wrong.

Maybe we can learn something from 5 monkeys?

Can you think of any “5-monkey” things you do? Please post your thoughts.

Is It Really Better to Give or Receive?

commission- love money-dreamstime_4259186-sized for internetSometimes I think about one of my first birthdays in China and a cultural learning experience that I had. Since it was my birthday several of us went out to dinner to celebrate. One of my ex-pat friends who had been in China a long time leaned over to me in the middle of the meal and whispered in my ear, “In America when it’s your birthday, everybody treats you to a free meal. In China when it’s your birthday, you buy the meal for everyone else to celebrate.” Fortunately, I brought enough money with me to handle the unexpected expense.

A similar twist is seen in China on how you think about and talk to your mother on your birthday. In America, your birthday is all about you. In China, your birthday is about your mother. It’s important to remember to thank her for giving birth to you.

That may be a little bit backward for Westerners, but it certainly makes more sense, doesn’t it?

This idea got me thinking about giving and receiving. There’s a well-known Western proverb that says, “It is better to give than to receive.” When we’re children we don’t really believe that much and we think it’s just a trick our parents are playing on us so that we will be nice. But when we grow up a little, we find that it’s actually true.

Now science even backs up that idea. The American Psychological Association in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study* that supports the idea that we benefit more from giving than receiving, at least on a psychological level.

It seems to be true in every part of the world.

Researchers found that in 120 of 136 countries there was a positive relationship between spending money on others and personal well-being. This was true across many nations and in every part of the world.

Another study found the same thing to be true in both Canada and Uganda.

It seems to be true regardless of wealth or poverty.

In one study, participants were asked about a time when they either spent money on themselves or when they spent money on others. After this they reported how happy they felt. The people who reported on spending money on others were happier than the ones who reported spending money on themselves whether they were rich or poor. That same study was duplicated in India between different classes (rich and poor) and found the same results.

Other researchers found that regardless of income when people were given a small amount of money to buy a treat for themselves or for a child in a local hospital, they felt much better when the money was spent on a sick child.

Maybe your mom was right the whole time! Be sure th thank her on your next birthday.

Is it better to give or receive? Please post your thoughts.

* Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., Kemeza, I., Nyende, P., Ashton-James, C. E., & Norton, M. I. Pro-social Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (in press) 2013 DOI: 10.1037/a0031578

Getting the Best Out of Stress-Part 3 is part three of a series of posts that will help us get the most out of the stress involved in adjusting to a new culture. In Part One, I talked about the fact that not all stress is bad. In fact, we enjoy stress. In Part Two, I shared 5 poor coping strategies. These are things that make us feel better and may temporarily relieve the stress, but ultimately do not help us to adjust to a new culture. These 5 coping strategies should be avoided.

Today, were going to talk about 6 coping strategies that we should use because they help us adjust to a new culture. While the poor coping strategies only make us feel better, these 6 things actually help the situation. We call these coping strategies “active” or “direct” because they involve actions and will help move our cultural adjustment forward.

Since learning a new language can be one of the most stressful parts of cultural adjustment, I’m going to illustrate each of these coping strategies with an example of how you might put them to use while learning a new language.

1. Planning. When you feel stress because of difficulty in learning a new language, set aside time every day to study. For example, make it your plan that from 2:00 to 3:00 you will review old vocabulary words, and from 3:00 until 4:00 you will work on new vocabulary words. That is a plan that will help you learn a new language and adjust to a new culture.

2. Suppression of competing activities. When you feel bad because you’re having trouble learning a new language, many people will throw themselves into reading a novel by playing video games. This helps relieve the stress because they’re thinking of something else, but it doesn’t help cultural adjustment. Ignore the tendency to do this and buckled down to the hard work.

3. Use of instrumental support. Surround yourself with people who can help you along your journey of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Find a language tutor who will help you for a few minutes every day.

4. Waiting for an appropriate opportunity to act. The emphasis here is not on “waiting” but on “acting.” But the acting must be done at the proper time. One way to put this coping strategy into use is deciding when you will force yourself to use the target language. For example, make the commitment to yourself that every time you go to the market to go shopping you will only use Arabic even though it’s difficult and some of the shopkeepers want to speak with you in English.

5. Solving problems responsibly. This is simply not ignoring a problem and taking action steps to solve that problem. For instance, if you don’t understand some kind of grammar rule that you learned in class today, humble yourself, visit your next-door neighbor and ask them to explain that particular grammar rule.

6. Being socially involved with host country nationals. This should be obvious, but is one of the most important aspects of learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture. Spend time with your local friends, get to know them, ask them questions, keep a notebook of insights, and enjoy yourself in the local culture.

These are 6 things that you should do when the stress of learning a new language and culture are painful. Keep these in mind, practice them, and I can guarantee they will take you further down the road.

For discussion:  Can you think of a way that you can put one of these 6 active coping strategies to work for yourself today? Please tell us about it.

Getting the Best Out of Stress-Part 2

Alone-Bad-dreamstime_3843431-Web SizeIn my last post, I talked about the fact that not all stress is bad. In fact, we enjoy stress. That’s why we like to read novels, go to movies, and listen to music. I also mentioned these three important points:

1. Cultural adjustment always involves stress.

 2. As human beings we always try to find ways to “cope with,” or manage, that stress.

 3. Some ways that we cope are good (beneficial) and some ways that we cope are bad (harmful).

Remember, we are talking about coping with the stress of adjusting to a new culture. Today we are going to talk about things we should not do to cope with stress and in my next post were going to talk about things we should do to cope with stress.

What makes some coping strategies good and other coping strategies bad? The main difference is this: good coping strategies change the situation and help us adjust better. Bad coping strategies just make us feel better (called “palliative.”) These are ways that help us emotionally to deal with the stress but don’t help us adapt to a new culture.

Keep one important thing in mind: in our lives there are times when we need coping strategies to make us feel better emotionally. At times of deep grief or loss we do need palliative coping strategies. Today were not talking about that. Were talking about cultural adjustment stress, and so we don’t just want to cover the emotional pain we need to actually change and adapt to a new culture.

Unfortunately, these bad coping strategies are quite common among expatriates. If you’ve adjusted to a new culture and are honest with yourself you probably have used some of these coping strategies from time to time.

Here are 5 of the most common emotional coping strategies used in cross-cultural adjustment.

1. Daydreaming. Mentally escaping by thinking about life at home in order to mask the pain of a culturally difficult situation.

2. Expatriate refuge. This is where you spend all of your time with people from your own country and culture. This is one of the most common types of poor coping strategies and you can see it all the time when you are overseas. Indians who spend all their free time with other Indians. Americans who spend all their time hanging out at the expatriate coffee bars or discos It may make us feel better, but it’s hurting our cultural adjustment.

3. Self-criticism. One way to emotionally feel better is to criticize yourself personally. That sounds a little backward but it is part of an emotional defense mechanism that is called “self handicapping.” It doesn’t help us adjust to a new culture.

4. Seeking emotional support. This can be seen in the expatriate who hangs out with other expatriates who are adjusting poorly. I have also seen some people living overseas adopt a pet and put all of their life and emotional experience into their dog or cat. Needless to say this is not helping their adjustment.

5. Acceptance. This involves coping with the stress of adjustment by just giving up. The person who says, “I’ll never understand Japanese culture!” or, “I’ll never be able to speak Chinese!” is helping himself or herself feel better, but this type of attitude will never help real cultural adjustment.

There you have it. Five ways that we can help feel better when we are having trouble in cross-cultural adjustment, but these are poor coping strategies because they don’t actually help us to adjust better.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some good coping strategies that will help us adjust better.

For discussion: In your cultural adjustment, have you ever seen yourself or a friend using one of these 5 poor coping strategies? Please post a comment.

Getting the Best Out of Stress- Part 1

grief-dreamstime_2615652The title, “Getting the Best Out of Stress” may seem a little bit odd to some people. The reason is we hear so much about the negative side of stress sometimes we begin to think that all stress is bad.

I want to make the point today that not all stress is bad and in fact, can be very beneficial. Next time, I want to share some specific ways that we can deal with stress that will help us when we adjust to a new culture.

We like stress

It may seem strange to think about this, but we enjoy stress. There are many examples of this from our everyday life.

Why do people enjoy reading novels? Because they like stress. Every novel opens with some kind of stress that gets resolved at the end of the book. Each chapter begins with stress that gets resolved at the end of that chapter.

Why do people like movies? For exactly the same reason-because there is stress. Every good movie has some elements of stress which are resolved at the end of the movie. If you think of every movie you have ever watched and enjoyed you can think of the stress that was there that made you excited about the movie. A movie without stress would be extremely boring.

Why do people like music? Because of the stress! In fact, the whole point of music is to create tension (read: stress) and then to release that tension. Think of the simple song, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Many people don’t realize it, but that same tune is the “ABC Song” and was actually written by Mozart. Sing the song to yourself, but leave off the last note. So sing it this way:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you…

If you were singing that to yourself it will drive you crazy to leave the song unfinished. In fact, sometimes when I’m giving seminars I’ll sing the song and stop at that exact place. There has never been a time when at least one person, and usually several people, sing the last note because they can’t stand to leave it unfinished.

Why? Because the music creates tension. That tension is released when the song ends on the very last note. We enjoyed music because of the tension it creates.

Even our bodies need stress to be healthy. Muscles atrophy if not used and put under “stress.” Our bones become soft if we don’t walk or run and put them under stress. Recent studies have shown that exercise, which is stress for our bodies, is especially important as people grow older.

So why do we think that stress is so bad? Why do we have the idea that stress causes heart attack and other physical problems?

Because it does! What makes the difference whether stress is enjoyable and beneficial or painful and harmful involves resolution. The novel is enjoyable because the good guy wins in the end. We liked the movie because good triumphs over evil in the last reel. Music is enjoyable because the song resolves and ends on the last note.

Stress that is resolved makes us feel good. Unresolved stress makes us feel bad and can even shorten our lives.

Here are some important points about how cultural adjustment and stress are related.

1. Cultural adjustment always involves stress.

2. As human beings we always try to find ways to “cope with,” or manage, that stress.

3. Some ways that we cope are good (beneficial) and some ways that we cope are bad (harmful.)

Next time we’ll talk about ways that we cope with the stress that we face when we are adjusting to a new culture.

Discussion Question: Think through all of the hobbies that you enjoy, whether it be reading, playing video games, watching TV, listening to music, or painting. Is there some kind of stress involved that makes it enjoyable? What is it? Have you ever thought about this before? Please post your thoughts and your comments.

Dreaming of Leading an Intriguing Meeting hate meetings.

Granted, I’d rather go to a meeting than have a root canal, but by only a little bit.

To be honest, many organizations don’t do meetings very well.

But sometimes, we do have to have a meeting. So here are some thoughts on how to help build your organization through the effective use of meetings.

  • Some Bad things about meetings

The costs of having a meeting are very high. Three of the highest costs are in time, money, and lost production.

1. Time- Many meetings are an incredible waste of what is probably the most valuable asset we have: time. Whenever you are in a meeting think about the time that is being spent. If 10 people meet for one hour that is 10 man-hours invested into that meeting. Did your organization receive more than a full days worth of value from that meeting?

2. Money- Many meetings involve some kind of travel, so meetings can also very expensive.

3. Lost production- All the time spent in meetings is time taken away from staff members who could actually be doing “real” work.

  • Some good things about meetings

If you are trying to build a relationship with a new client or trying to unify a team, you can and should have a meeting. Here are some good things about meetings.

1. There are some things that can only be done in a meeting like brainstorming, aligning goals, building relationships, or working through projects where face-to-face dialogue is mandated. For those tasks, meetings are extremely important. Unfortunately, many meetings are held for other reasons.

2. Meetings are a wonderful way to build relationships. They are also a great way to build team unity as the team works through a project together.

So what can we do to make our meetings better?

  • Change the way you think about meetings

1. Some of the best meetings are the ones that never take place because they are not needed. Know why you are meeting and cancel it if you don’t have a clear reason to meet that can only be accomplished face-to-face.

2. Don’t have a meeting because it’s Monday at 10 o’clock. Meet only if you need to meet and have a clear goal for the meeting.

3. Don’t overlook the importance of the informal meeting. Sometimes the best meetings happen spontaneously around the water cooler. In fact, some of the most highly inventive companies make time for their employees to have casual meetings every week or every month.

So if you must have a meeting, here are some suggestions for making them successful.

  • How to have a good meeting

1. Make the meeting be about action points that must be accomplished. Have action points coming in and going out of the meeting. Make the meeting revolve around those action points.

2. End the meeting with a review of the action points.

3. Don’t go for round numbers. Why meet for an hour? Meet for only 40 minutes if that’s all you need.

4. Only cover things you cannot do via email or phone.

5. Pass out necessary materials 1 day in advance. Not too far ahead, or it might be forgotten, but give everyone enough time to read and prepare.

Maybe meetings are inevitable, but we can make the ones we have lead good ones.

What do you think about meetings and how we can improve them? Please post your ideas and suggestions.