Being better better – with Systems Intelligence

IMG_4016-0I’m a big fan of the idea of Systems Intelligence, a concept by Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen and his collaborators that I’ve explored Systems Intelligence here on Mappalicious.

Recently, together with some colleagues from Aalto University, he has published a new book by the name of “Being better better” that explores Systems Intelligence in a way that addresses the layman. You can download a free PDF of the book here. I highly suggest reading it. Enjoy!

How to get Lucky at a TEDx Conference

After having approval by the TED organization, I´m finally and officially allowed to share with you the TEDx talk I gave in Bergen/Norway on October 4. I talked about the issue of luck – and how we all can bring more luck into our lives. So please excuse me if the article’s headline was a little misleading. No here´s the talk. I firmly intend to get a least 100.000 views – so please share it if you like. And below, you´ll find a complete transcript (more or less…) and the history behind it all. Enjoy!

So here´s the story before the story that´s also part of the story. I gave the talk on October 4 (Saturday) – and was invited to give the talk on Monday of that same week – because one of the speakers cancelled on short notice. The week was a regular work week, so my time for preparation and rehearsing was really, really short. Typically TED speakers have a couple of months to prepare and they get coaching to deliver their talk right on point. I´ve had nothing like that.

I had to conceptualize and write my talk, tweak it, and learn it all by myself in some 15 hours. And given these rather difficult circumstances, I´m actually pretty proud of myself – which is a rather un-German thing to do. Typically, when I give presentations, I do have a script or something like that. I prepare my charts and give the talk ad lib – which works out pretty well (based on the feedback I get).

But giving a TED talk is totally different from hosting a presentation in a board room. Basically, you cannot “let the charts do the talking”. You have to be a true storyteller. And in order to be able to do that, I decided to do something which I haven´t done since early high-school: leaning something by heart´. I wrote down what I wanted to say word by word – and then tried to memorize it all, sort of like an actor in a theater. That´s why I´m able to share the script with you right here.

I´ve watched my talk three times by now to evaluate my performance. And it’s really interesting to note where I stayed true to the script, where I forgot something, or put something in ad lib – and how that made the talk better (especially a little funnier) than intended (at least from my point of view).

So here´s the transcript. Enjoy – once again!

Intro Story

TEDx_Bergen_2A great storm came into a town and there was an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood all the nearby homes. The officials ordered everyone to evacuate immediately. A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God! God will send a miracle to save me.” The man´s neighbors came by his house and said: “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.”

The flood rose higher into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused once more, saying, “Go save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!”

Still the waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop. A helicopter spotted him and dropped a rope ladder. “Grab the ladder and we will pull you up!”, an officer screamed. But the man still refused, folding his arms tightly to his body. “No thank you! God will save me!”

Shortly after, the house broke up and the floodwaters swept the man away and he drowned. An instant later, the man knocked at the pearly gates, was let in, walked straight up to God and asked: “Hey Man, I put all of my faith in you. Why didn’t you come and save me?” And God said, “Geez, I´m so sorry about that. I really tried to save you. I sent you a car, a motorboat, a helicopter….

Main Part

Today, I want to talk to you about luck. Serendipity. Fortune. Originally, I wanted to name my talk “How to get lucky”. Thank God I´ve found out just early enough that this means something else entirely…

So instead, I´ll call it “How to be the architect of your own fortune”. Let´s have a look at that word: Fortune. It can be derived from the name Fortuna – and Fortuna was the Goddess of luck and fate in the Roman mythology. There she is. What you can clearly see: she is blindfolded. That means: she is impartial. She can bestow upon each of us good luck and fortune, but also disaster. The point is: she´s not supposed to care about the recipient. Instead, she is an agent of chance. She is a symbol for the unpredictability of life.

That is what the ancient Romans believed: Luck, whether good or bad, is something that happens to us. We cannot interfere. Some people are born under a lucky star – and some are not. But it turns out that this view about the world is most likely incorrect.

Today, I want to convince you that we all can – at least to a great extent – be the architects of our own fortune. We can change our stars. We can learn how to be lucky. In order to do so, I will draw on the work of a few great scientists, and I will draw on the wisdom of some ancient and some contemporary sages. And I will also illustrate some points based on my personal history.

But let me start with you guys…

Kronen Experiment

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Kronen ExperimentHere in my hands I have a bill. It is a 100 Kronen bill and it´s worth roughly 15 US dollars. Now the question is: does somebody of you want to have this 100 Kronen bill? It is real. Who wants to have it? Please raise your hands…

Ok, so would somebody please stand up and come to stage and collect the bill? … OK, thank you – a big round of applause to our lucky winner.

So what happened? Why didn´t all of you take to the stage? What were you thinking? I guess it was something like: “Ahem…is he really…no…he´s not really…oh wait he really is…damn…too late.”

What did he do? He/she acted. He said: yes. Go for it. And that is already a big part of the mystery. I believe that luck favors those of us who act. Those that go out and do something. Those, that take a chance. There you have it: take a chance! Luck likes people who say: YES!

Nico´s TED History

Truth is: I´m a lucky guy. I am not on a TEDx stage for the first time. This is the second time. I spoke about how to “not get mad in a traffic jam” at a TEDx event in Cologne last year. But: I wasn´t invited to speak. I was a regular guest just like most of you are today. One of the speakers cancelled right on that day – but instead of extending the break, the organizers did something else: They addressed the audience and said: “OK, so we´re going to split up those 18 minutes by three: and if you feel like giving an impromptu 5-minute TEDx talk, write your name down on a piece of paper, put it on the speaker´s desk during the next break.

So I wrote my name down and put it on the desk. And lucky me: my name was drawn from the stack and I gave my little 5-minute TEDx talk – and it was a big success. There was definitely an element of luck in there. There were 10 or 12 slips of paper on the desk. So my chances were roughly at 30%. I was lucky, definitely.

But: To be invited to give an ad-lib Tedx talk takes more than being lucky. For example, you have to be there in the first place. You have to buy a ticket and show up. That´s straightforward – but nevertheless crucially important. And then, in this case, you have to express yourself. You have to be brave and optimistic and write your name on that slip of paper and tell the world what you have to offer. And then, when your name is acutally pulled from the stack, you have to say yes. You have to go for it. You have to be brave. Just like the fellow who now owns 100 Kronen more than 10 minutes ago.

But that´s not the whole story. In order to give an improvised TED talk, you also have to be prepared. You need to have knowledge and stories in the back of your head. You have to be ready. The books I´ve read, and the seminars I attended, the hundreds of TED talks I watched – all that helped me to be prepared when the opportunity arose. And there we have four essential building blocks for being the architect of your own fortune:

Prepare – be there – express – and say yes! Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!

Sounds good, does it? Let´s look at those four elements in detail

Louis Pasteur – Prepare

The scientist Louis Pasteur famously said: Chance favors the prepared mind. I think he stole that from Oprah Winfrey. Chance favors the prepared mind. Pasteur was referring to scientific discoveries when he proclaimed that – but isn´t that just a special case of being lucky? What he meant was: You have to be able to understand what you see when you see something. You have to be able to connect the dots, discover a pattern – and make sense of it. And this ability, in turn, is based on training, prior knowledge, expertise. That´s what why we tend to get luckier the more we learn and grow.

Woody Allen – Be there

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Show upLet´s turn our attention to a slightly more modern sage: Mr. Woody Allen. He´s often quoted as follows: “80 percent of success in life is showing up.” And I think he´s absolutely right. We have to go places, meet people, we have to be curious. Be present. Be open. Be mindful. Luck seldom happens to us when at home alone. Luck mostly comes to us in the form of other people. Luck favors those that go out and mingle. If you don´t buy a ticket to a TEDx event, there´s no way you can step in when one of the speakers cancels. If you don´t apply for the job of your dreams, you´re definitely not going to get it. If you don´t talk to the beautiful stranger, you won´t get lucky – there, now I said it. We tend to get luckier the more curious and open we are.

Richard Wiseman – Express

Now let´s also look at some science: Richard Wiseman is a British psychology professor who is known for his unconventional research ideas. About 10 years ago, he´s published a book by the name of “The Luck Factor” – and a lot of what I tell you today is based on his work. He´s got a lot more to say on the topic – but let´s just look at a sentence from the summary section:

Luck is not a magical ability or a gift from the gods. Instead, it is a state of mind – a way of thinking and behaving.

One thing he found is: Lucky people are not really luckier, they just try harder. They display more Grit, as Penn Professor Angela Duckworth would frame it. Another important behavior is: expressing yourself. And let others express themselves. Show the world what you´ve got to give. Let them know. And listen to what others have to say and to give. Be open. present. Be mindful.

Richard Branson – Say yes

And finally: Say yes! Over the last weeks, I frequently stumbled upon this quote by Sir Richard Branson – and I´m sure he´s knows something about being lucky. The quote goes:

If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Richard WisemanAnd that – once again – has a lot to do with the talk I´m giving right now. Actually, I was invited to give this talk just 5 days ago. I met one of the organizers, Tjorben, in Berlin in June. And we met again 10 days ago in London. We had dinner together and he told me how he´s working on the final preparations for this TEDx event. And I said jokingly: “Oh, that´s great. If you do it again next year, you can invite me as a speaker.”

5 days ago, he texted me via Facebook: One of the speakers had cancelled. And he asked me if I would be able to come to Bergen today to speak to you. Now here´s what a proper German should have said:

“Oh, Norway? This Saturday? That´s tough. You know, I have to do the grocery shopping on Saturday, and then there´s soccer on TV…and it´s a really long trip. Hmm. But I said yes. I´m lucky. Truth be told: First, I asked my wife for permission: But then I said yes. Yes is such a beautiful word. Let´s conclude: We tend to get luckier the more we say yes instead of no!

Steven Johnson – The Adjacent Possible

Let´s look at some more science: A couple of years ago, I bought this brilliant book at an airport: Steven Johnson´s “Where good Ideas come from”. In a nutshell, it´s a book about creativity and innovation – and why great ideas mostly do not happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone.

A core concept of the book is the principle of the “Adjacent Possible” – which Johnson borrowed from evolutional biologist Stuart Kauffman. The idea at the core can be put like this: The adjacent possible is a yet unrealized state – or rather a multitude of unrealized states – of some entity. An adjacent possible is a potential state in the near future that may or may not be realized. But there are always constraints with regard to what is possible. An example from biology: in a world where there are only monads – one cell beings– the adjacent being cannot be a dinosaur. Life cannot jump from one cell to dinosaur directly. But jumping from one cell to two cells – that´s an adjacent possible. Then cell clusters, that turn to into more complex structures – and then, after lots and lots of adjacent possibles, you may get your dinosaur at the end of the day.

Johnson transferred this principle to the world of ideas and innovation. He´s able to show that innovation also moves along the path of the adjacent possible. You couldn´t have the first car without the invention of the wheel, oil refining, and the combustion engine. And you´d have to know about all of these things.

And I believe that´s also why some people are luckier than others. By going out and learning, and talking to people, and saying yes, they enlarge their personal sphere of the adjacent possible. They create an extended space of possibility. They make possible what for other people is absolutely impossible. Prepare – be there – express – and say yes!

Esa – Systems of Holding Back

Let me take this idea to another level – especially the “saying yes” part. The question is: Can we all together turn the world into a luckier place? Yes, we can. Enter Esa Saarinen. Esa is one of Finland´s most eminent philosophers – and he surely looks like one, don´t you think? I had the honor of being taught by him at the University of Pennsylvania shortly before Christmas. Together with a co-worker, Esa has developed a framework he calls “Systems Intelligence”.

A core concept in Systems Intelligence is the idea of Systems of Holding Back. More precisely: Systems of Holding Back in Return and in Advance. Again, the idea is very simple at the core – I´ll give you an example: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl and wants to tell her. But he´s afraid she could say no. So he remains silent. Meanwhile girl also loves boy. But she´s frightened as well. So she also remains silent – and they never become a couple. End of story.

That is a small system of holding back in return and advance. The tragic thing is: This happens every day. Everywhere. Not only with lovers. But also friends, family, co-workers, political parties, governments, and nations. We want to make a contribution. We want to give. We want to do good. But we are afraid. So we hold back. And by collectively holding back we create the “systems of holding back” that make “holding back” even more likely in the future. It is a downward spiral.

Outro

Each of us has to pro-actively counter these systems: So please ask yourself:

  • What are you holding back, and what is the contribution you could make? Today, and in the future?
  • When are you saying “no” when you could and should really say “yes”?
  • How could you bring more luck into your life and that of others?

Prepare, be there, express, and say yes!

Thank you!

TEDx Bergen 2014 - Nico Rose - Team

Foto credits

Want to be lucky? Prepare, be there, express & say yes!

Nico Rose - TEDxBergenYesterday, I told you that I would be going to give a TEDx talk at Bergen/Norway today. And that´s already history by now. I had a great time and would like to congratulate the TEDxBergen team for the great job that they´ve done (the event is entirely run by students!). Thanks for inviting me…

Since it´s probably going to take a couple of days until there´s a video available, let me give you a bit of advance information. My topic was: “How to be the architect of your own fortune”. I talked about how some People be seem to be luckier than others by sort of inviting luck into their lives.

In doing so, I cited some work by Richard Wiseman, Esa Saarinen, Steven Johnson/Stuart Kauffman, and Angela Duckworth. I also integrated some quotes by Louis Pasteur, Woody Allen, and Richard Branson, and talked about how God “manages”.

Here´s the summary, basically – which was also my punchline for the talk. If you want to bring more luck into your life, this is how it goes:

Prepare, be there, express & say yes!

Watch out for my video in a couple of days…

 

Positive Psychology at Work: A Book List for the Layman [updated]

Here, I´ve compiled a list of books that apply Positive Psychology to the realm of “the organization”, leadership, management etc. As always, I see the list as work in progress and will be happy to include your suggestions. When making suggestions, please stick to books that have a clear link to Positive Psychology and are (by and large) backed by research.

Positive Leadership Books

Being a better Leader by managing organizational Energy [Video]

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about Positive Organizational Capital as introduced to the Positive Psychology community by Fred Luthans. Today, I´d like to point you to another concept based on Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), precisely: (Positive) Energy. I´ve already touched upon that topic quite a while ago – when introducing some of the work of the marvelous Jane Dutton.

Below, you´ll find a 3-minute video of Kim Cameron, one of the founding fathers of POS. He talks about the concept of (Positive) Energy, and how to assess and manage it – and why it´s crucial when being in a leadership role.

And it´s not that complicated after all. We should ask ourselves:

  • Is it an uplifting experience when working with colleague XYZ?
  • Do I feel elevated when being around this person?
  • Is this relationship live-giving?

The goal is too have as many people “on board” where you can answer those questions with “yes”. You can read more about the concept of energy in Jane Dutton´s book Energize Your Workplace. And please also check out the work of Esa Saarinen on Systems Intelligence.

Barack Obama vs. Gordon Brown: Are you “holding back”? And what if you wouldn´t?

If you´re not here for the very first time, you probably know about Esa Saarinen and his theory about Systems of Holding Back. More precisely, they are defined as “mutually aggregating spirals which lead people to hold back contributions they could make” (“because others hold back contributions they could make”). You can read more about this topic here.

Recently, someone pointed my attention to this short footage of Barack Obama visiting former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It´s a perfect example of Esa´s theory. Now ask yourself: How many times a day am I Obama – and how often am I Brown?

The James Bond Philosophy of Life – in 007 Chapters

007 LogoIf you´ve visited Mappalicious before, by now you will probably know who Esa Saarinen is – as I´ve written about his work several times. During his MAPP lecture in December 2013, he also initiated us to a slightly more informal area of his teachings: the 007 philosophy of life. Unfortunately, that day Wharton´s recording equipment didn´t work that well – so there´s no account of that lecture (and I´m a lazy note-taker…). Hence, I´ll give you my own – heavily Positive Psychology influenced – interpretation of his “theory”, mixed with the bits and pieces I do remember. As a philosopher, I think Esa would approve of this method. You can see the overview in the following picture:

Esa Saarinen - 007

Don’t get irritated

James Bond is always “cool” – at least that´s the impression he makes on other people. He focuses on the situation at hand and the overarching goal of his mission and never gets sidetracked, except for the occasional tête-à-tête – but even those often serve a purpose, e.g., irritating one of the evil guys. At the end of the day, this is a lesson about mindfulness.

Take immediate Action

Bond is not much of a planner. He makes up his mind and improvises a lot of his moves on the spot, relying on his wits and physical abilities. He knows that the life as a super agent is full of surprises and events that one cannot really prepare for. Therefore, he sticks to a few big goals and decides on the next-best move “then and there”.

Self Respect

James Bond never questions his abilities, he never falters or hesitates. While a real-life person cannot (and maybe shouldn’t…) be equipped with an equal level of self-confidence, this is probably a lesson about self-efficacy, the “power of believing you can”. Self-efficacy is the scientific version of Henry Ford´s aphorism: “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

Always carry a Secret Weapon

When in desperate straits, Bond always has one more trick up his sleeve, usually a tiny gadget given to him by the armorer “Q”. Seen through the lens of Positive Psychology, I think this part refers to the very unique set of signature strengths that we all have – and that we should rely on when to going gets tough. Additionally, it shows that other people matter. Even a lone wolf like Bond needs other people´s support at times.

Act with Style

James Bond understands that style is mostly about simplicity. Similar to the real-life George Clooney, he´s always dressed and groomed extremely well – which means they stick to time-tested essentials. The suit, the hairdo, the car, the handgun, the drink – they all seem to say: Don´t get carried away by fashion, don´t get lost in unnecessary details – no frills. This is also a lesson on efficiency: Bond knows that sticking to certain defaults is the most intelligent way of avoiding unnecessary decision-making – thereby saving up mental capacity for more precarious moments in life than choosing what to wear for dinner.

The true significance of the current mission will become clear later in the Bahamas

I think this point has a lot to do with the “connecting the dots”-part of Steve Job´s Stanford Commencement speech. Life can only be lived forward, but the sense-making happens looking backward. Hence, we have to embark on the journey without necessarily knowing where it will end – or what it all means. We have to get moving. Anyway. Otherwise, we won´t even make it to the Bahamas.

In Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Now, this may be the most important part – even though it doesn´t seem that straightforward. I guess that´s why Esa saved it for last. Even though James Bond seems like a cynical, ruthless, and at times even nihilistic person – he´s definitely not. He´s an agent in Her Majesty´s Secret Service: he fights for the safety of his country and “the free world” in general; he´s not in it for himself. That is his true higher purpose. In his lectures, Esa often refers to this part of our lives as “finding the Queen”: We all have to find a queen we can and want to serve. We´re not on this world only for ourselves. Until we´ve understood this crucial point, we´re only living half a life.

Esa has more in common with 007 than he probably wished for

There´s is a pretty incredible twist to the aforementioned deliberations: About three months after his lecture in Philadelphia, Esa was stabbed with a knive by a presumably mentally deranged young man when being on his way to a lecture in Helsinki. He sustained a wound on his hand when trying to fight off the assailant and another, more severe, to his abdomen before the attacker could be overpowered. By now, Esa has fully recovered and the young man is on trial for his deeds. Esa has lived through this ordeal with admirable equanimity and does not even demand a punishment for the aggressor.

Below, you´ll find the full recording of his glorious return to the lectern in Helsinki. The lecture is in Finnish but has English subtitles.