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Motivation

Brainstorms actually stifle creativity

Back in 1940s, advertising executive Alex Osborn argued that it was possible to enhance creativity by putting a group of people in a room and have them follow a simple set of rules, like coming up with as many thoughts as possible, encouraging wild and exaggerated ideas, not criticizing or evaluating anyone’s comments. Not surprisingly it became a hit. Over the years, organizations around the world have encouraged their employees to tackle key problems using this approach, commonly known as brainstorming.

But the scientists aren’t convinced. (Nor am I). Brian Mullen from the University of Kent at Canterbury and his colleagues analyzed twenty studies that tested efficacy of group brainstorming and discovered that in the vast majority of experiments, participants working on their own produced a higher quantity and quality of ideas than those working in groups.

The reason, group brainstorming fails, is because of a phenomenon called ‘social loafing’. Simply put it is diffusion of responsibility. When people work on their own, their success or failure is entirely due to their own abilities and hard work. If they do well, the glory is theirs. If they fail, they carry the can. However, add people to the situation and everyone stops trying so hard, safe in the knowledge that, though they will not receive personal praise if the group does well, they can always blame others if it performs badly.

Years of brainstorming may have inadvertently been stifling, not stimulating, creative juices. So have faith in yourself, work alone, regroup to discuss your ideas with your team and kick ass.

Self-portrait by Mayur Tekchandaney

Playing games could ease traffic congestions

Billions of hours, fuel and money gets wasted in traffic congestions. Though there has been some progress in the last few years in Mumbai with the starting of the Bandra-Worli sea-link and the fly-overs being built, there’s a strong feeling that it may not be enough. Take the case of Delhi. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. While the government has targeted to increase the usage of public transport from existing 40% to 80% by 2020, it will extremely difficult to curb the ‘status’ tag of cars.

Singapore has had the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system that charges extra dollars for using congested zones during peak hours. So do London and Stockholm. However congestion charging has come under criticism that it favours the rich and that it adversely affects retail businesses in the congested zone. So could gaming come to the rescue?

Two experimental transportation projects are under way in Singapore and Silicon Valley that aim to improve commutes through gaming. In one of the experiments, conducted by Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor, more than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled. Participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for a chance to win cash.

So rather than only punishing traveling in peak hours, this program also rewards traveling in non-peak hours.

Balaji Prabhakar said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier. He says that 11% might not seem much, but they’re enough to make a difference in traffic flow. He ran a successful project for employees of Infosys called INSTANT (Infosys-Stanford Traffic project) in Bangalore in 2008-2009 and is now running the project at Stanford University as well.

I’m wondering how this could be implemented in Mumbai as public transportation is neither electronically controlled nor linked to each other. However prices of public transport can be controlled manually. So imagine the ticket prices of road transport – bus, rickshaw, taxi and the sea-link like toll is increased by 25% in peak hours (8:30-10am and 6:00-7:30pm), but is also decreased by say, 10% during off-peak hours. Could it work?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Pornography is illegal in India and is seen by most as something that is detrimental to society. Many people outside our country, like in the US (where pornography is legal) too believe it is detrimental to social order, contributing to the degradation of women and leading to rape and sexual assault or other sex related crimes. But there are others who argue the other way, saying that pornography is an expression of fantasy that provides pleasure and can act as a positive displacement activity for sexual aggression.

This debate as well as the increasing coverage of rapes in Indian media got us to research whether or not pornography led to sex related crimes and rapes. Here’s what we found:

Tons of research has been done on this. Quoting few of them here. Findings of Goldstein and Kant, 1973 found that rapists were more likely than non-rapists US prisoners, to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster. These two also found that strict, religious upbringing to be highly correlated with sexual offences. A 1984 Canadian study by McKay & Dolff for the Department of Justice of Canada reported, “There is no systematic evidence that suggests that increases in specific forms of deviant behaviour, reflected in crime tend statistics, eg. rape, are causally related to pornography.” Diamond and Uchiyama, 1999, studied the situation in Japan  – as explicit materials were readily available, the incidence of rape had dramatically decreased over the past few decades. Studies from Croatia by Landripet, Stulhofer & Diamond done in 2006 and of US and China done by Diamond also showed significant decreases in rape as pornography became increasingly available.

Reason sighted for this ‘Porn up, Rape down’ phenomenon is that, erotic inclinations to rape, flash, other sexually offensive behaviour, etc might have been used in real life encounters as a means of resolving a lustful inclination. The ready availability of pornography in contrast, may have facilitated a more convenient and more socially tolerable solution of masturbation.

Whether you agree to the above or not, here’s something to think about – when we express our opinion on pornography we think about its effect on others, not on ourselves. While we may not think that pornography is harmful or capable of inciting sexual offenses, we think it might have such an effect on others.

Source: Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review by Milton Diamond in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Illustration hidden by Mayur Tekchandaney

Words can work like drugs

Words have been known to have the power to affect behaviour change when used appropriately. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Here’s an interesting case that illustrates this point. Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist and author wanted to find out if it was possible to increase donations by creating the perfect charity box. He created four charity boxes. Each identical in shape and size, and all advertised the same charity – National Literacy Trust. He placed each box at one of the four randomly selected tills at the Borders bookstore, UK. Each carried a message that psychologists believed would be effective:

‘Please give generously’

‘Every penny helps’

‘Every pound helps’

‘You can make a difference’

Which one do you think collected the most amount of cash?

‘Every penny helps’ worked best, containing 62% of all contributions. ‘You can make a difference’ was at second place, ‘Please give generously’ at third and ‘Every pound helps’ was last at fourth place.

Why did this happen? According to work done by psychologist Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University, many people are concerned that putting a very small amount of money will make them look mean, so end up giving nothing at all. ‘Every penny helps’ legitimizes, and therefore encourages, the smallest of contributions. In contrast ‘Every pound helps’ had the reverse effect.

Meanwhile I thought I’d end the year with a tweet I read recently – ‘Do not worry about the past & the future. This moment needs your attention, this is where your life exists.’

Wish you Merry Christmas and a rocking 2013.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Its all about the food, bugger

Want your meeting to go well? Want to get that much needed approval from your client in that meeting? Want the participants at your workshop to be in a good mood? Want your wedding reception to be remembered?

You got it. Serve good food.

To understand how food can make you happy, it’s important to understand how the brain regulates mood. The brain uses neurotransmitters as communication signals to communicate with the rest of your body and to issue its commands. Typically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness. Foods that aid serotonin production include fish, chicken, cheese, spinach and bananas.

While some foods have been proven to physically affect your brain chemistry, others make us feel good just by eating them. These are Comfort Foods.

Psychological studies have turned up evidence that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts . We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. Comfort foods can also be linked to specific people in our lives: Eating a specific food that a loved one favored can produce happy thoughts by triggering fond memories or associations of that person . This makes comfort foods fairly unique to each individual. If your childhood birthday parties represented the pinnacle of happiness for you, you’d likely crave birthday cake or some variation of the dessert when you’re feeling the blues.

Although comfort foods (or the events attached to them) vary from person to person, the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions vary by gender, as well. A 2005 Cornell University survey of 277 men and women found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak .

So know the food that leads to happiness and know the likes of whom you are serving to.  Foods’ the reason for Laughing Buddha’s happiness and could well be the reason for your happiness too.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

 

The Power of Scent

We usually use scents (perfumes) to feel fresh, confident, smell good and to attract the opposite sex (well, same sex in some cases). But scents can have uses beyond our imagination. Here’s one brilliant way, designers at Rodd Design and The Olfactory Experience have used the power of scent.

They’ve created a product called Ode. Ode is a product that releases authentic, high-quality food aromas at particular times in the day to help stimulate appetite and rekindle an interest in eating – discreetly and unobtrusively.

Ode has been created as part of Design Council and Department of Health’s design challenge program ‘Living well with Dementia’. It’s a project to find new solutions for the people of UK that have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is serious enough to diminish everyday functions in a person’s life such as driving, everyday duties like personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding.

Weight loss is common to most people with late-stage dementia and can be an early indicator of the condition’s onset. Ode is a discreet system that is less stigmatizing and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally.

Fragrances are released in short sharp bursts, acting as a strong appetite trigger and then dissipating rapidly so users won’t become inured to the effect. A subtle light indicates the device is working and also communicates when fragrances need refilling.

Ode is a beautiful and subliminal way of changing behaviour. It can have implications much beyond the application of stimulating hunger amongst people with dementia. It can be used by hospitals to stimulate appetite amongst various kinds of patients or by spas to improve relaxation or by offices to promote alertness. The possibilities are endless. What applications come to your mind?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Goddess of magic can save you fuelRemember being told by a kid in an ad sometime back, to switch our cars off at signals, because saving fuel meant saving money? If you didn’t, crores of tax payers money (in India), in the form of TV, radio, outdoor advertising went down the drain. Ok, so you are one of the few who do recall this message. Have you changed your behaviour? Do you now switch off your car at traffic signals? Does your driver do it? Have you asked your driver to do it? Ever?

Most of us don’t. It’s too much effort. You would first need to switch the AC off and then turn the ignition switch off, to turn the engine off. And when the signal turns green, you gotta turn the ignition key on, get frantically honked at (we’re talking India remember), change the gear from neutral to first, get frantically honked at again, put the hand brake down, and finally get moving. Oh yes, turn the AC on again. Even if you are highly eco-conscious or highly stingy, it’s still too much effort.

Here comes the Goddess of Magic. Isis, the Greek Goddess of Magic, is the inspiration behind the name of an innovative automobile product called, the same in capital letters – ISIS – Intelligent Stop Immediate Start!

Intelligent Stop Immediate Start (ISIS) is a device, which if fitted inside your car, can save you anywhere between Rs. 500 – Rs. 2,500 for every Rs. 10,000 you spend on fuel. The way it works is that when your car comes to a halt at a traffic signal or while in stop-and-go traffic, and you put the car in neutral, ISIS switches the engine off automatically. To start the engine back, you simply have to press the clutch. No additional effort required. Solutions made keeping in mind that humans are built lazy, work well.

What about the AC you must be wondering. ISIS comes with a built-in sensor, which detects even a minor drop in cabin temperature. If ISIS detects a drop in temperature beyond what is set by the driver, it restarts the engine automatically. As per tests conducted, the cabin temperature remains constant for about 1-2 minutes when the engine is switched off. Most signals restart, within 60 seconds in any case. And if you wish to start the engine/AC at any time, you simply need to press the clutch and the engine with the AC starts again.

One more benefit of the Goddess of Magic, besides saving fuel and money – the reduction in particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide – the stuff that’s weakening our lungs.

ISIS has been developed by Indent – Dhruv Chaudhry’s company. Indent is an auto research and development company, which focuses on creating innovative auto products that, benefit the environment and improve safety. To know more about ISIS click here.

Our advice to the PCRA (Petroleum Conservation Research Association) and Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy, (Union Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, India) – instead of spending crores on building awareness for saving fuel via advertising, change actual behaviour by promoting products like ISIS and help India save trillions worth of fuel.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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