How Social Psychology Devoured its Own: Amy Cuddy, the TED talk “Power Pose” former HBS professor

 

A 2017 NYT Magazine article by Susan Dominus notes below the rise of a field: social psychology–and how one of its most visible experts, Amy Cuddy, whose TED talk with more than 43 million viewers–became a victim of a reform movement launched from within (P-hacking).

The field is of interest to diplomacy as it relates to the group-level, touching on such mainstays as groupthink, persuasion/influence, and more. (The larger story of Cuddy, is also interesting–and her main idea, that you body language can influence others, although now under scrutiny, is still interesting and useful, as well.

 

One of the seminal social-psychology studies, at the turn of the 20th century, asked a question that at the time was a novel one: How does the presence of other people change an individual’s behavior? Norman Triplett, a psychologist at Indiana University, found that when he asked children to execute a simple task (winding line on a fishing rod), they performed better in the company of other children than they did when alone in a room. Over the following decades, a new discipline grew up within psychology to further interrogate group dynamics: how social groups react in certain circumstances, how the many can affect the one.

The questions grew even more profound, using experiments to tease out universal susceptibilities, raising the possibility that behavior was more easily swayed by outside forces than personality researchers previously believed. The field reached a moment of unusual visibility in the mid-20th century, as practitioners, many of them Jewish refugees or first-generation immigrants from Europe, explored, post-World War II, the way group pressures or authority figures could influence human behavior. In one simple study on conformity in 1951, the social psychologist Solomon Asch found that people would agree that one drawn line matched the length of another — even if it clearly did not — if others around them all agreed that it did. In subsequent years, researchers like Stanley Milgram (who tested how people weighed their consciences against the demands of authority) and Philip Zimbardo (who observed the effect of power on students assigned as either prison guards or prisoners) rejected the traditional confines of the lab for more theatrical displays of human nature. “They felt the urgency of history,” says Rebecca Lemov, a professor of the history of science at Harvard. “They really wanted to make people look.”

Since the late 1960s, the field’s psychologists have tried to elevate the scientific rigor of their work, introducing controls and carefully designed experiments like the ones found in medicine. Increasingly complex ideas about the workings of the unconscious yielded research with the charm of mesmerists’ shows, revealing unlikely forces that seem to guide our behavior: that simply having people wash their hands could change their sense of culpability; that people’s evaluations of risk could easily be rendered irrational; that once people have made a decision, they curiously give more weight to information in its favor. Humans, the research often suggested, were reliably mercurial, highly suggestible, profoundly irrational, tricksters better at fooling ourselves than anyone else.

Already relatively accessible to the public, the field became even more influential with the rise of behavioral economics in the 1980s and 1990s, as visionaries like Richard Thaler, (who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month) found applications for counterintuitive social-psychology insights that could be used to guide policy. In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best-selling “Tipping Point,” applied irresistible storytelling to the science, sending countless journalists to investigate similar terrain and inspiring social psychologists to write books of their own. In 2006, Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, published the best seller “Stumbling on Happiness” — a book that tried to explain why we plan so poorly for our own future. That same year, TED started airing its first videos, offering a new stage for social psychologists with compelling findings, ideally surprising ones. The field was experiencing a visibility unknown since the midcentury; business schools, eager for social psychologists’ insights into leadership and decision-making, started pursuing social psychologists, with better pay and more funding than psychology graduate schools could offer.

via When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy – The New York Times

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Who is Laszlo Szombatfalvy and Why Does He Want to Build a New UN?

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What kinds of ideas could replace the UN? In a major competition sponsored by the Global Challenges Foundation, the Sweden-based group, a number of  thought leaders give it a try. This year, $5M was awarded for the selected ideas.

The prize, he said, is not aimed at finding whole solutions to global threats such as climate change, wars and poverty, but rather “a model or mechanism that could provide the solutions”.

via Want to solve global crises? $5 million prize seeks fresh ideas | Reuters

One interesting submission from Cristián Gimenez Corte, an international lawyer from Argentina who has worked at International Narcotics Control Board, UN Office of Drugs and Crime, UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (all in Vienna) and the UN Office of Legal affairs (NY). In “Shake It Up: The Case for Reforming the United Nations (A Real Global Governance Model) suggests:

  • Create a new executive body that has the authority to make decisions on global governance.
  • Change the financial structure away from national contributions toward an international tax on financial transcactions and the use of global public goods.
  • Reform career paths toward a structured approach–similar to how other ministries of foreign affairs operate as well as lose its privileged legal status so as to be subject to national courts.

He has a number of fresh ideas that, admittedly, would be difficult to implement in the current political environment–but offer some good, clear thinking. For example, picking a super-statesman as the next Secretary General, rather than a manager from within the ranks as some past leaders have been–would require a great deal of political will and doesn’t seem possible. But his report–as well as others both broaden the discussion and tread on a wide range of difficult paths that should be considered.

Other notable submissions with some great ideas include the following:

How would you fix the UN? One thought: “Bringing in new partners”–an idea that Samarasinghe suggests, citing UNICEF and ILO as good examples–is the kind of innovative thinking that is needed.

Booklist | A Critique of Human Rights

The idea of human rights is assumed to be universal. Not so fast, says a Yale prof. Samuel Moyn offers a sharp critique of human rights with a particular interest in economic inequality:

…[I]n “Not Enough,” he ex­am­ines how they have been an­swered by in­ternational lawyers, po­lit­i­cal philoso­phers and hu­man-rights ac­tivists since the end of World War II. He con­cludes that, while the hu­man rights move­ment has not de­lib­er­ately sup­ported the growth of ma­te­r­ial in­equal­ity dur­ing this pe­riod, it has also not done enough to com­bat it: “un­wit­tingly, the cur­rent hu­man rights move­ment ap­pears to be help­ing Croe­sus live out his plan,” Mr. Moyn writes. In gen­eral terms, Mr. Moyn’s book cov­ers much the same ground as his 2010 study, “The Last Utopia,” which also treated the mod­ern his­tory of hu­man rights. In­deed, Mr. Moyn de­scribes his new vol­ume as a “re­write” of the ear­lier one: “What can make the study of his­tory ex­cit­ing is that its in­fin­ity of sources and our change in per­spec­tive can al­low two books on the same topic by the same per­son to bear al­most no re­sem­blance to each other.” De­spite this dis­claimer, there is a ba­sic con­sis­tency in Mr. Moyn’s po­si­tion: In both books he writes as a critic of hu­man rights from the left.

Via WSJ, “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There,”www.wsj.com/articles/not-enough-review-dont-just-do-something-stand-there-1524170889

Teaching Children the Basics of Diplomacy

Wouldn’t it be great if children could see different sides of a standoff and resolve their own disagreements?  Emily de Schweinitz Taylor wrote an interesting book that does just that.

 

Rather than assume our children will learn collaborative problem-solving, perspective taking, and empathy in a vacuum, as parent mediators, we take an active stance in teaching our children how to work out their more intense, recurring conflicts with each other. Over time, our children gain the ability to collaboratively problem solve without our oversight. In short, our input of direct communications training during our children’s younger years will help us raise a generation of mediators prepared to handle the conflicts our children will naturally encounter throughout their lives.

via Raising Mediators – Home

 

Powerful Public Speaking

We can always give a better speech.

Speaking is a performance, according to Michael Port of Heroic Public Speaking. Take a look at a these useful insights from an actor-turned-speaking guru, starting with one tip on how to structure your talk.

6. Organize with frameworks.

A clear structure helps you remember what to say, and helps the audience understand what you say. Choose one of these five frameworks for your next talk:

  • Numerical. This framework is easy to use, and flexible. Stephen Covey organized his presentation according to his bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. When he had 60 minutes, he could cover all habits. When he had only 20, he might cover three points.

  • Chronological. Your step-by-step process should go in a particular order, to make it easy to follow.

  • Problem and solution. Audience members want you to solve their problems. For example, you might point out that many people are nervous about speaking in front of groups. Then share how to overcome that same fear of public speaking.

  • Compare and contrast. If you have two different concepts, use them both. Jim Collins structured his presentation, “Good to Great” by comparing and contrasting the pros and cons.

  • Modular: This framework works particularly well in full-day workshops and events. In his live event, Port might divide the day into three modules: performer’s mindset, principles and public speaking master class.

    via Entrepreneur

Ambassador Blackwill on How to be a Successful Diplomat

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What makes a good diplomat?  Robert Blackwill works on  China, Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, and geoeconomics with experience on the NSC, as ambassador to India and as presidential envoy to Iraq. He has a few ideas.

And he should know. As a policy street-fighter he stood up to Donald Rumsfeld with words and arguments, and, according to Andrew J. Grotto, is both “brainy and brawny”:

Blackwill … began his career in the Foreign Service, where he served for 22 years. At the State Department, he worked for Secretaries Kissinger, Haig, and Schultz, and was U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator at the Warsaw Pact talks on conventional forces in Europe from 1985-1987. From 1989-1990, he served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, where he advised on European and Soviet affairs, and where Condi Rice was one of his subordinates. He then began an academic career at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he taught international security policy and wrote on Russia, arms control, transatlantic relations, and U.S.-South Asian relations.

Here’s Blackwill’s advice:

Possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations.  If this subject matter does not feed you, if you do not have a compelling instinct to learn about the world, pursue a different profession.

Demonstrate an analytical temperament. Our current culture encourages ideological predisposition and rigidity.  We are invited to have an opinion without first having a full command of the facts.  Resist the temptation to prescribe before you analyse.  Dean Acheson understood how hard this is, “I was a frustrated schoolteacher, persisting against overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the belief that the human mind could be moved by facts and reason.”

Write well and quickly. Nurture your ability to rapidly produce quality prose.  Read and learn from great writers.  Try George Orwell, E. B. White and John McPhee.

Be verbally fluent and concise. George Shultz observes that listening is an underrated way of acquiring knowledge.  Pay attention, speak only when necessary and keep your comments brief.  These are not qualities highly prized in academia.

Ensure meticulous attention to detail. Whether your work is going to the President or Prime Minister, to your immediate superiors or to your peers, each deserves a flawless product.  Don’t accept less of yourself.  Jeff Bezos stresses, “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.”

Be a tough and effective negotiator. Getting to yes is not the objective of a diplomat.  Begin instead with what best serves your country’s national interests and then seek to achieve a negotiating outcome as close to those requirements as possible.  Adopt clear red lines and do not compromise beyond them.  And as James Baker advises, “Never let the other fellow set the agenda.”

Build long-term physical and mental stamina. With the exercise of power and responsibility comes continuous 12-16 hour days, filled with pressure and stress.  Be fit.

Accept dangerous assignments. Diplomats frequently serve in menacing locales, sometimes die in the line of duty.  From Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, this is not a line of work only conducted in rarefied surroundings.  Reflect on your degree of anticipated personal courage before entering this profession.

Study history. Former Harvard faculty giants Ernest May and Richard Neustadt eloquently counsel thinking in the context of time.  They insist that knowledge of history does not provide exact policy prescriptions in present circumstances, but it does illuminate choices and raise central questions of policy formulation and implementation.  A good start is Henry Kissinger’s A World Restored.

Prudently speak your opinion to power. Be ready to disagree with evolving policy when it really matters.  But choose your dissenting moments wisely.  Don’t badger your principal.  And if such policy differences become paramount, don’t whine.  Resign.

Be loyal and truthful to your boss. Never question outside of government a decision made further up your bureaucratic chain of command, no matter how much you disagree with it.  Once such a decision is made, your professional duty is to try your best to implement it.  There is nothing courageous in disavowing your Administration’s decision in whispered tones in social settings.  And never misrepresent or lie to your official superiors, no matter how expedient it might appear at the moment.  If you do so, you should be fired.

Cultivate policy resilience. If the Duke of Wellington never lost a battle, most generals do – and so will you. Expect periodic policy defeats and energetically move on to the next challenge.

Acquire relevant work experience. Invest time, energy and effort in your own professional development.  Don’t thirst for too much power and responsibility too soon.  In diplomacy – as in most endeavours – experience is a crucial component of success.  As Renaissance painters demanded, apprenticeship is a necessary step in professional enhancement.  Would you hire a plumber who was academically well versed in water distribution, but had never installed a pipe?

Know your political ideology. No matter how flattering a foreign policy job proposal may be, ask yourself whether your ideology is compatible with that of the offering institution.  Not to do so is to invite endless professional pain and torment.

Take advantage of luck when you encounter it. When Napoleon was asked what kind of generals he looked for, he responded “lucky ones.”  Be ready when events in the world provide policy opportunities you can exploit.  Getting on a personal professional wave you can ride – and that you want to ride – is also importantly a matter of good fortune.  Relentless attention to the other fourteen characteristics enumerated here will put you in the best position to partially make your own luck in your career.

via Harvard Belfer Center