The Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths

28 12 2011

I mentioned in a previous posting the Harvard Business School Study where a graduating class was asked whether they had written goals, then followed up ten years later. The source of this story seems to have been the book by Mark McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive. The details of the study are reported to be as follows:

The 1979 Harvard Business School Graduating Class were asked the following question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” 3% reported they had written goals and plans; 13% had goals, but not written down and 84 percent had no specific goals. The follow-up, ten years later showed that the 13% who had goals were earning an average twice as much as the 84% who did not have goals. And the 3% who had written goals and plans were earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together.

A pretty compelling case, wouldn’t you say? If only the story were true.

Like many urban myths, while there is truth in the sentiment – the moral of the story, if you will – the actual story is not true. This study was not conducted on the Harvard Business School Graduates. Nor was it conducted at Yale in 1953. Yale apparently gets a lot of questions about this and even have a response posted on their website.

Thankfully, Gail Matthews PhD from Dominican University has now done the study – and more . Her study looked at the benefits of having goals v writing the goals down v having an action plan v having an accountability mechanism (in this case, submitting a weekly report to a friend on progress). And the results all support what you would expect.

Study on goal setting by Gail Matthews, PhD, Dominican University

So the keys are:
1. be clear on your goals and write them down.
2. develop a plan on how you are going to achieve them.
3. Develop an accountability mechanism. This needs to be external to you – sadly we are not very good at keeping ourselves accountable, which is why the various weight-watching companies which require you to turn up weekly are all so successful.

This is part of a series on goal-setting. To read the other postings, click below.
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the journey as well as the goal
Being Accountable

It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)

28 12 2011

photo credit pdbreen

“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping” Chinese Proverb

So you know where you want to go? Once you’ve set your goals, the next step is to PLAN how to get there.

This is the step that is often missing in New Year’s Resolutions and goal-setting generally. It’s relatively easy to think about what we want, the destination, but often the goal seems remote, unattainable. Or, as mentioned in the previous post, it requires daily effort, daily decisions. Many goals founder on the rocks of daily life.

So the next trick is to make achieving the goals automatic. Take away that decision-making point – make the decisions now and plan out what you are going to do. This is about sensible motivated you-of-the-present safeguarding against tired, unmotivated you-of-the-future.

This is the real reason why you need to put you goals into positive statements, not negative statements. You can plan to DO something, but planning to not do something just leaves a hole and a question – if you aren’t doing that, then what are you doing? If you aren’t having the cigarette, then what are you doing? If you aren’t eating junk food, what are you eating? Too much decision-making at the “crunch-time” will increase stress….and potentially lead to failure as you become more focussed on what you are giving up.

So, if your plan is to give up cigarettes, plan to replace them with something else – chewing gum, knitting, blogging – something that can truly take the place of the time taken to smoke and distract you. Plan to avoid situations where you are most tempted – smokos at work, bars, that friend you always smoke with – but do it by planning something to fill those gaps. Perhaps you can arrange that you have a regular gym-date with the friend.

If you are planning to lose weight, plan how that is going to happen on a daily basis. Perhaps you could have a glass of water when you feel the urge to binge coming on. If you are planning to save money start a business, get organised, plan it out month by month, week by week, day by day, so that when the time comes, you don’t have to stop and work it out for yourself at the time, you can go to your plan, or your list, and just follow your own instructions.

Don’t make your plan unattainable – if you program every last second of your life you will undoubtedly rebel at some stage. If you plan to save every last cent over basic living requirements, then you aren’t going to make it. Set a realistic goal and if you exceed it – great! If you fall down one week – get back on the plan.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula K LeGuin

Want more on how to stay strong on your New Year’s Resolutions? This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths
Being accountable

the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.


18 09 2011

licensed under creative commons from gothopotam

I have written a bit about my concern about the impact that screens are having on society in general, and children’s brains in particular. And how the all-pervasive training of young brains through screen culture – TV, computers, DS, PSP, Playstation, Wii, X-box, etc – will impact not only the furture of those children through their ability to absorb education, display patience and delay gratification, and their tolerance for novelty and excitement versus their tolerance for boredom and perseverance, but also change the society we live in.

And these concerns, where possible, have been backed up by science.

However, now for a confession.

I suspect I am a screen addict myself.

Now I didn’t grow up with screens to any great extent. I can still remember our first colour TV in Australia – 1976 for the Olympics. I remember getting a Commodore 64, and I remember our school getting a couple of computers which, if you were lucky and in the top maths class, you got to “program” to display a flag made from asterix (I confess I cannot work out the plural of asterix….). I remember in Year 4, being taken to visit a computer at the nearby science and technology park – it took up and entire warehouse full of stacks with tapes whirring on the front, and probably had less capacity than my iphone does.

So my childhood was not saturated with screens. In fact my parents strictly rationed television time to 1/2 an hour a night (but enough on that – I am saving that story for the psychiatrist’s couch).

I do remember working before email. I worked in a pay section briefly and we programmed the computer (which was off-site somewhere) by filling in A4 sheets of paper with Xs in squares. Letters got written in longhand and sent to the typing pool to be typed out. They came back and if there were errors, they had to type the whole thing again. At that rate you were lucky to act on more than a couple of decisions a day. Think of the pace of emails today where I am making 80+ decisions on an average day (albeit some of them trivial).

So my confession is – as the purveyor of the No-Screen Sunday, I am myself a screen addict. Not the DS, Wii or Playstation for me – but I do find TV in the evenings very relaxing and am annoyed if there is nothing on that I want to watch. My computer is usually on if I am home – and my ipad travels with me for those opportune moments to update the blog, check my personal emails etc. Not in work hours of course, but on the weekend and in the evening….. And I am an e-scrabble fiend. Oh yes, and I do love LinkedIn.

So somehow I need to make the effort to set the example for my children about how life off-line is so much more satisfying.

Perhaps after I have finished studying I might have time to do that. There’s always some excuse.

If you like this posting you might also like The effect of Marshmallows on the DS Generation, and Sponge-Bob, Sponge-brain.

The impact of Marshmallows on the DS generation

10 07 2011

In 1972 Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University devised a novel way to torment small children.

It should be noted that tormenting small children was not the aim of the study. The aim was to see what techniques some children used to overcome temptation and the differences to those used by children who surrendered to temptation. It was only when it was followed up years later when the children were teenagers that the impact of this ability to delay gratification on the rest of their lives began to become clear.

The study went something like this. A small child, aged approximately 3 to 5 years of age was led into a room where there were a number of treats on display. These included the eponymous marshmallow. The child was allowed to select one treat. At the point at which they were about to consume the treat, the researcher offered them a deal.

One marshmallow now. Or, wait a few minutes and have two marshmallows when the researcher came back. There was a third option – if you chose to wait then changed your mind, you could ring a bell, the researcher would return but you only got one marshmallow. Approximately 30% of children were able to wait and get two marshmallows.

The Marshmallow Experiment is probably well-known to anyone who has done Intro Psych. When followed up as teenagers, those who were able to delay gratification had higher grades. Even later on, those who were unable to delay gratification were more likely to use drugs or be overweight. The ability to wait to get a better reward rather than gobbling up quick and easy rewards now seemed to be a fundamental precursor to success.

Delayed gratification was seem as aligned to long term goals and perseverance – study to get a degree, save to buy a house, start a business. All of these things require a long-term view of life, to understand why it is worth persevering with something that is not immediately rewarding.

So how does this impact on the DS generation? OK, so to start with I am not anti-DS games. I would never have survived long car-trips with my children without plugging them into Mario-kart and Pokemon. And I am quite a fan of the Tomb-raider Series for Playstation (although Lara Croft’s impossible figure and flexibility puts Barbie to shame in terms of physical impossibility).

But if you are going to learn something new, you practice. And what my children are practicing on DS / Playstation / Xbox / Wii etc is a warped version of Newton’s third law of motion – every action receives an immediate reaction. Neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield warns that the impact of screen-culture is to develop shorter attention spans, reliance on instant gratification and self-centredness. And this is what children’s growing, developing, learning brains are being trained to.

The other thing they are learning is that entertainment comes from external input. They have no tolerance for boredom. My response “It’s good to be bored – it makes your brain work to entertain you” was recently echoed in an Advertiser article, which is now, to my children’s disgust, laminated and stuck to the fridge door. If it’s printed in a newspaper, it must be right, right? The children remain unconvinced.

As well as my annoying sayings, the second front in the fight-back – less welcome – is “No-Screen Sunday”. From first thing in the morning until 5pm at night, there are no screens on. No TV, no computers, no DS. The only exception is for homework.

At first, of course, I was the meanest mother in the world (I have explained that “mean” is part of the job description but they look at me blankly). But gradually, they have actually started playing together, reading, riding their bikes. Doing things that involve live human interaction and/or physical movement on their part. Maybe I am channelling my 1970’s childhood, but it seems like a good thing.

There’s no getting away from screen culture. It is here to stay. Many jobs are dependent on screens, study now requires computer literacy for researching, writing and submitting. My current study and much of my last two degrees were conducted online. It is a major form of entertainment and a source of information.

But No Screen Sunday just goes to show, there is life after all.

PS: The New Yorker printed an amusing story about one child who worked out where the other treats were being stored, broke into it and helped himself. According to most of the “Success” coaches who coach thinking differently and not being limited by externally imposed rules, this child should be the most successful of all. Or perhaps a criminal. Turns out he works in the creative arts industry. Maybe a different type of thinking is good for a different type of success.

If you liked this posting you might also like Where are they now?

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9 07 2011

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Insidious Evils of ‘Like’ Culture” talked about the effect that this infectious facet of Facebook has had on western culture.

The thumbs-up sign, as hijacked by Facebook, is now a universally recognised, if somewhat vague, i-symbol.

As a Facebook afficionado, I am certainly a fan of the “like” button. On my ipad Facebook function, where I can’t “like” other people’s comments, I frequently type in *Like*. I feel a need to spread the love and connect.

But what does *Like* mean? I am a subscriber to several news services Facebook Pages, and have seen examples where people have “liked” some pretty horrible stories. In this shorthand culture, it is hard to know, but I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they weren’t thinking too deeply about what they were “liking”. It was more a registration that they had read it. I hope.

So maybe it’s less about liking something (although it does still have that function). Maybe it’s shorthand for an acknowledgement, a recognition or on some level, agreement with the sentiments, or at least some aspect, of the post. At its most basic level, it is almost a popularity measure – which are the sentiments that gather the most agreement?

And it was this aspect that the Wall Street Journal Article was concerned with: the effect the popularity contest aspect was having on culture and on our ability to think.

Do we, craving acceptance, edit and re-edit our online messages like Pavlovian dogs, repeatedly regurgitating those aspects of our lives that are positively reinforced, and editing out the less acceptable bits? And, layering onto that our 30-second concentration span, does this mean any thought which takes more than 30 seconds to digest and hence doesn’t collect a series of *likes*, is edited out of our online personalities – and possibly our real lives as well?

How does this build a culture of intellectual thought? Or are we pandering to the lowest common denominator. In a world where ability to delay gratification is linked to success in most areas of life….how is this instant popularity contest affecting what we are exposed to through our online interactions. With Facebook now the most visited site and accounting for more internet traffic than pornography (apparently its true!), it is a significant indicator and driver of our culture. More than a neutral channel, the way Facebook works is changing the way we access information and the way information is presented to us.

And if its all down to a popularity contest…..then we’re in trouble.

Please *like* this blog!

Wall Street Journal July 2, 2011
The Insidious Evils of ‘Like” Culture (Neil Strauss)