Justice: what’s the right thing to do?/ Michael Sandel

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A 2009 publication.

Starts with the question: what is fair? The broader question being, what is justice?

P19 three approaches to defining and framing justice: welfare, freedom, virtue. “this book explores the strengths and weaknesses of these three ways of thinking about justice.”

The book examines various theories of philosophy: Kant, Rawls, Aristotle.

Cites theoretical questions to real-life situations as examples to explain how these philosophies of framing justice has been applied (largely western societies).

E.g. If you are on a runaway trolley and you have a choice: let the trolley run its course and it will run over three other people in its path. Or veer the trolley off its path where it will kill one other person but spare the other three.

How does one explain that somehow putting one other person in harm’s way is worth the lives of three? Or, would you be less at fault if you choose not to do anything.

P87 examining the thinking behind a conscript Vs volunteer army. One view is that conscription is an imposition of an individual’s right not to serve (freedom). But on the other hand a volunteer army is not entirely voluntary since the motivation is pay. Which a question arise of whether military service is a civic duty (equality) or the non-serving citizens have abdicated this duty to others.

We seem to have a collective morale sense. E.g. in times of supply shortage, when is it considered ‘price gorging’? Is “insanely high prices” unjust per se? Most of us feel it is exploitation and taking advantage of others when they are down, that’s what I think we feel strongly against. But there is a way to also explain such intuitive reactions using philosophical theories.

The book gave me the intellectual vocabulary to discuss the idea of what is Justice; to be able to articulate what seem to be intuitive and subjective. For instance moral contracts, autonomy and reciprocity in social and business contracts.

See http://www.justiceharvard.org

Tales of inspiration: stories of faith, hope and love that will touch your heart and make you believe/ werwinkski, c.a.

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Christianity-faith focused. Series of individual anecdotal accounts, describing encounters with the Christian faith, prayers, angels. Most come across as having a philosophical slant rather than outright evangelical.

Stories read like readers’ letters to a Christian magazine. Nothing particularly moving or touching (if you were expecting stories to be like ‘ for the soul’ style). Won’t instantly make all people believe, if that’s what the title implies.

Probably for Atheists, the stories are more ammunition on self-fulfilling prophesies. To staunch Christians, the stories could be affirming their faith.

Relational intelligence: how leaders can expand their influence through a new way of being smart/ Steve Saccone

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It’s published by a Christian press, so the book tends to be interspersed with Christian beliefs. Though the principles are really universal, in my view. However, as a non-Christian I found the anecdotes and repeated religious references a bit distracting.

Relational Intelligence Quotient – test at http://www.relationalintelligence.info


The Michael Scott Syndrome (one office manager in “the office” tv comedy).

Treat and value relationships not as a disposable commodity but (as I understand it) with decency.

Treating others with quality will bring about quantities of influence. not about abandoning quantity, but looking at quality with quantity.

Lack of self-awareness is an obstacle to RI (suggests honesty, vulnerability and courage as parts of the cure).

Habit 1: “accessing the perceptions of those around us”. Ask people you trust (though not not always those whom agree with you) how they view us.

Habit 2: “activate the reflective mind within you”. Review. Make right (e.g. Could be offering an apology to make amends”. May cost time, effort and personal pain but will result in less time, effort and pain later.

Habit 3: “write clarifying statements”. Express with honesty and vulnerability. Be self-aware.

Some examples:
“I struggle with becoming easily envious of others’ accomplishments, so I get uncertain about my ability to succeed with other people in my field — even friends — have success.”

“I get easily insecure about my sense of self-worth, so that when not enough attention is on me from my supervisor or co-workers, I feel devalued and internally

Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion/ Noah Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Caildini


Says persuasion can be a science, not an art. The authors aim to “provide the reader with a better understanding of e psychological processes underlying how we can influence others to move their attitudes or behaviors in a direction that results in a positive outcomes for both parties”; includes ethical strategies to persuade others, as well as what to look out for to resist covert and overt influences on our decision making.

My take aways:
Think better of others
Honesty is still the best policy
Give before expecting to receive
How you say it is just as important as what you say

Book is general enough, yet with clear examples to allow reader to infer best easy to approach. See http://www..com or http://www.influenceatwork.co.uk

Cites Colleen Szot, infocommercial writer, who changed the phrase “operators are waiting, please call now” to “if our operators are busy, please call again”.

Social proof – encouraging hotel towel reuse. Put 2 different signs. One was the basic message about saving the environment. Another was the fact that majority of hotel guests reused their towels at least once during their stay. Found 26% were more likely to reuse their towels when told about the “social proof”. When they changed the second message to say that majority of guests in the same room did so, the rate increased to 33%. Also suggests the more similar the persuader tithe target audience, the higher the chance of persuasion.

Social proof also explains why a message may self destruct. E.g. When a negative social proof/ behaviour is being used (littering) which may backfire to show many ppl are doing so (i think issue is also the message implies there is no consequence) and the viewer may think it’s ok to continuing littering. Same reason explaining why voter turnout continues to fall when politicians condemn the low turnout. Or the high numbers of ppl who don’t show up for their appointments.

Another interesting case study. The Arizona Petrified Forest Natural Park. They experimented with different messages to deter theft of the petrified wood. The control was a no-sign (2.92% loss of the planted petrified wood), a no-stealing sign (1.67%) and a sign/ illustration saying many people have taken the wood and destroyed the natural state of the forest (7.92%).

Power consumption example. Power of group norms, the “magnetic middle”. Those who consumed above and below average all gravitated towards the middle. By adding positive feedback to the latter, they were able to make them maintain their lower consumption.

Stating the value of things people are getting for free (e.g. You are getting $150 worth of consultation for free Vs you are getting free consultation)

Offering two differently priced products, from same company, may make the less expensive one seems better choice.

(crisis comms) That when communicating dangers (e.g. Health messages or health threat), there should be offering of courses of action or options in clear and specific steps. If not, or by being vague, ppl tend to receive the message with denials, fear or blocking it out.

Power of social obligations and reciprocity (why Iceland granted citizenship to Bobby Fischer). Suggests instead of asking, “Who can help me?”, the long term view is to ask “Whom can I help” and this may result in reciprocal behaviour later.

The sticky note experiment. More ppl bothered to complete the survey when it is accompanied by a handwritten note Vs cover letter or no letter (lowest response). Suggests the more personalized the effort, the more likely they will respond/ agree.

Post-meal mints/ higher tips experiment: it’s the recipient’s perceived significance (not necessarily costly) of the gift; the manner in which the gift is given; the unexpectedness.

A variation of the hotel towel reuse experiment. Reciprocation-based Vs incentives-based (former had 45% higher response): Hotel already made donations to an environmental protection agency, and telling guests it did so on their behalf. Gave impression the guests initiated the efforts. Suggests higher tendency for reciprocal behaviour when we offer help that is genuine and completely unconditional.

(Francis Flynn) study found ppl who did favors tend to increase the value of their deeds while recipients perceived lower value as time goes by. suggests opposite tendencies. Implications: giver could suggest/ remind how recipient would have returned the favour, or start by subtly reminding earlier favor before asking a return favor, e.g. “did you find the report I sent you earlier useful?”

The road safety signboard experiment. Found that getting ppl to start with small steps resulted in higher participation in greater subsequent commitment.

Positive labeling as a way to persuade. E.g. “.. sense there is good in you”; “you seem the type to do the right thing”

Asking people to affirm their commitment (to a desirable behaviour) tends to increase their participation. E.g. From “please call to cancel” to “will you call if you wish to cancel?”

Benjamin Franklin; his way to make a fellow legislator amicable to him was to ask the other person for a favor first (rather than to give one first). Suggest that if the other person agreed, he/ she will find ways to justify why you are worth helping. If they reject, you are no worse off.

“captainitis”. Assuming someone knows best because they are most experienced. Transcript of the downed 1982 Air Florida flight 90 reinforces the point; exchange between co-pilot and captain, where co-pilot spotted the error but deferred to the captain’s erroneous decision, in spite of confirming the fault on the instruments.

Suggests familiarity/ association tends to lead to persuasion. E.g. Same name, same school. Suggests to start with stating commonalities before discussions with other party. Or, naming children after characters (e.g. Harry) may inspire them to read up (Harry potter).

Restaurant waiters study. Higher tips received by those who repeat the orders than those who merely say OK. Suggests Imitation as the basic form of persuasion. Implication for customer service.

Benjamin Franklin: “search others for their virtues”. By reacting positively to others, the other party is more likely to reciprocate. (think better of others)

Notion of loss (scarcity) may be more compelling than gain. E.g. Telling ppl they stand to lose 50 cents a day tends to be more effective than telling them about saving 50 cents more.

Xerox study; unique motivational influence of the word ‘because’. Found that in a queue to copy, ppl tend to let requests through if the requestor phrased the request with the word ‘because’ and with a reason, no matter how weak (“… Because i’ve to make copies”). But need for valid reason increased when the stakes were increased to more pages. Suggests persuasion requires strong rationale to be stated even if it appears fairly clear.

Asking ppl to name 10 reasons (why they should use a pdt) was less effective in creating a favourable impression than asking them to name just one. The former was associated as harder.

Rhymes tend to persuade/ create favourable impressions (which explains why rhyming jingles seem to be popular).

Idea of perceptual contrast. More favourable if you give them a “benchmark” that offers a contrast. E.g. A $7000 spa package Vs $100,000 to construct and maintain one.

Carwash incentive experiment; redeem a stamp if they pay for each car wash. One group had a 8-stamp requirement. The other had a 10-stamp requirement but 2 pre-stamped. more ppl completed the incentive for the latter. Suggests ppl more inclined to participate/ continue with prg if they have evidence that they already made progress.

Suggests that less-than-straightforward sounding names, but readable and pronounceable, can be more appealing.

An experiment with mirrors in a room; ppl more likely to behave if they see themselves or think they can be seen. Same principle with name tags (removing anonymity). Experiment, at a honor-based payment system pantry, with a poster with & without a pair of eyes; the ones that had was more likely to get ppl to pay up.

Study suggests ppl who feel sad are more likely to be susceptible to suggestions; implication is to give ourselves time to consider big decisions. For the persuader, while we may gain an upper hand if we tap onto the sad emotive state of the other party, it will not lead to longer term positive relationships, as the other party will later see the situation as being exploitative or they regret the transaction.

Emotions make ppl less sensitive to magnitude of numbers and more likely to pay attention to the presence or absence of events. For businesses, implies ppl are more likely to pay attention to the presence or absence of emotional-laden offers than actual numbers involved.

Sleep deprivation leads to less than ideal decision-making (get enough sleep!) Ppl who have had their caffeine-fix are more likely to be persuaded (with good arguments) than when they are not mentally stimulated.

Cited US Cellular’s “no email on Fridays” policy. Two employees discovering, over phone, they were just across the hall rather than states (sounds extreme to me, but maybe they are a gigantic org)

Email Experiment found that by disclosing personal info to the other negotiating party, there was greater likelihood of an outcome. Found that women were more persuaded in person while form of communication makes less difference for men (but experiment didn’t explore gender difference of persuader).

A communication experiment (email, voice, face to face) found that all groups tend to overestimate the likelihood of the other party perceiving their message exactly. But the gap for the email group was highest.

Diffusion of responsibility; why mass mails fare worse in getting responses than mails sent to individuals.

Consumer research experiment; buying sofa. Website background that suggested economic value (pennies) tend to persuade ppl to select based on cost, and a background that suggested comfort (clouds) tend to have ppl select based on perceived comfort/ quality. Respondents insist they were not influenced by any suggestions though the facts indicate we may be more susceptible to unconscious clues than we think.

Conclusions There may be cultural differences, e.g. Reciprocity may differ according to diff cultural values. Citibank study: Americans tend to look at individual reciprocity; Spanish look at relationships; mainland chinese look at rank and hierarchies.

Individualistic Vs collectivistic cultures. Implication on business, relating to ppl, advertising and marketing. For the latter, the authors suggest it’s necessary to credit the group rather than just the individual, especially in encouraging reciprocal actions. Suggests that relationships may be more important/ have more emphasis in collectivistic cultures, while individualistic culture may tend to focus more on the efficiency of the message.

References include sources from:
Robert B. Cialdini, 2001 influence: science and practice, 4th Ed.
Journal of personality and social psychology
Journal of consumer psychology
Journal of consumer research
Journal of experimental social psychology
Journal of applied psychology Psychological Science Personality and social psychology bulletin

Update: excellent summary of the points in the book, here, by Martin Poulter.

Liquid thinking: Inspirational thinking from the world’s greatest achievers/ Damian Hughes

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On the power of mind over matter, about positive thinking, of inspirational and yet down to earth quotes and excerpts of people (quite a few were British). People like Walt Disney, Andy Hardcastle, Mark Holden, Muhammad Ali.

Starting chapter:
List 5 things we love to do
List 5 things we are really good at
List one thing we consider to be essential to do in life
List 3 things we would do if we won the lottery
What do we want our obituary to say, if it were to be recited
Now write down what our purpose is

Poses specific questions for the reader, and gets reader to think of how to set goals. It occured ti me asking (oneself) the right questions is the first important step towards achieving one’s desired goals. It’s about being conscious about what we want, and who we are. And thereafter, letting (what the book calls) Recticular Activating System.

Easy read. Light and yet not unsubstantial. I liked the real-persons perspectives.

Plenty of motivational quotes.

“nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than an unsuccessful man with talent. Genius will not; the unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge, 30th US president, 1872-1933.

“people don’t fail in life, they just give up trying”.

Why we run: a natural history/ Bernd Heinrich

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ISBN: 0060958707

Epilogue: “If modern runners were drawn around a campfire in a warm African night, they would, like any Bushman, poke the embers and relive the run all the way to the finish line and beyond. That’s what I’ve tried to do here.”

Adrian recommended this book to me. An autobiographical account of a runner, who’s also a biologist. The book is interspersed with personal anecdotal experiences of his introduction to the world of ultramarathon running, his childhood, his training, his scientific training and understanding about the human condition thorough comparisons with insects, birds and mammals.

Hawk Moths and Pronghorn Antelopes and long distance running.

P65. “The distance runner must fairly float along the ground, and sometimes for hours on end. Ideally, he has light, thin bones and long, thinly muscled limbs, like a bird. The key to the distance runner’s performance is to supply his fat-burning muscles with a sustained supply of oxygen…” consequently that requires a large support system: heart that can pump large volumes, large arteries, large fuel depots in muscles, the liver…

Mitochondria: microscopic power units with batteries of enzymes that covert fuel and oxygen to energy, used by muscles for contraction.

Muscles needed by Sprinters and throwers do not need Mitochondria and such support systems for oxygen delivery.

P66. Blood, oxygen, Hemoglobin and Myoglobin.

P73. “Gems or generalisations?”

P83. On the individual ability to get more aerobic work out of the same volume of oxygen taken in. “… it turns out that what you have is less important than what you do with it.”

P86. Champion distance runners may have traits inherited from the maternal line.

P97. Insect wings have no muscle; the flight muscles are inside the body, e.g. Thorax (contrast this with mammals like birds).

P124. “Play serves a vital function in many animals. It serves the ultimate function of practice, and it is motivated by pleasure. Pleasure is the proximate mechanism for achieving many ultimate benefits.”

P136. On camels not being fast runners over short distances. “… they provide us with a lesson: slow and steady wins the race.”

The book starts off a little slow, in that he described the scenes from one of his practice run. I thought it odd for a book to start like that. But maybe that was the point. Running is as much about conscious act of running, as well as observing and appreciating life that is around us.

I could be overanalysing it of course, but this book is definitely philosophical book several levels. Running is a mental game, as the book explains several time. Runners ultimately compete against themselves.

Having run in my youth (though not marathon) I could relate to his experiences. Especially his blow-by-blow, step-by-painful-step of his best race.

This book made me want to pick up running again. And gives one the feeling that “we can”.

Chpt 16, his views and approach on Diet, for ultramarathon races.

P255 “After all, two sets of numbers designating birth and death dates say little about a person. It is the in-between that matters”.


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P21 “There are three basic flavours of incentives: economic, social, and moral.”

P44. Paul Feldman’s bagel business: insights to white-collar crime and the nature/ honesty of people.

P58. Stetson Kennedy and his crusade against the Ku Klux Klan; using the Superman radio show to trivialise and mock the secrecy and myth of the KKK. The case of information being power.

P120 – 144. Analyses the probable reasons for decrease in US crime rates: Innovative policing strategies (no), increase reliance on prisons (no), lower profits in crack/ cocaine market (yes), Ageing population (no), tougher gun control laws (no), strong economy (no), increase in number of police (yes), capital punishment (no). Adds that legalized abortion — or rather the choice for poor/ disadvantage/ women or those reluctant to have a child– is the biggest contributor to crime decrease.

P123. Citing the difference between correlation and causality. I.e. Just because data suggests a correlation does not mean one is the cause for another.

P126. Causality can be shown by using test cases (random sampling, or controlled tests)

P139. Legalized abortion led to less unwanted children; unwanted children tends to adopt life of crime.

147. On parenting; swimming pools and guns. That data show far higher chance of a child drowning in swimming pools than being killed by guns (present in the homes). and why parents think the latter is a higher danger.

P152. Cites Peter Sandman, a “self-described ‘risk communications consultant”. His equation for defining risk: Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Hazard high; Outrage low = People under-react. Hazard low; Outrage high = People over-react.

P154. says long line of research shows genes account for at least 50% of personality and abilities.

P174. Strong correlation with school test scores: Highly educated parents, child’s parents have high socioeconomic status, mother was 30 or older at the time of the first child, child has low birth rate (negative correlation), parents speak English at home, child is adopted, parents are highly involved in PTA, child has many books at home. But authors caution against drawing causality. E.g. The presence of books at home doesn’t automatically lead to better scores. Probably related to the higher educated parents propensity to read.

Factors with weak correlations: family is intact, moving to better neighbourhood, non-working mothers up to kindergarten age, attending Head Start (preschool for poorer kids), regular outings to museums, child is regularly spanked, frequent watching of TV, parents reading to child nearly everyday.

P176. Suggests genetics are a major contributor of school performance, but parental influence (presence of books at home etc) also plays a part.

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