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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 26-June-16

The UK and Europe: A love-hate relationship

If you stand in America, Europe can be seen as something like the USA, only a form of 'United States of Europe'. After all, there is a kind of Western-world cohesion about it. They have a Union. Many use the euro currency. So why do they seem to be constantly bickering?

The reality of Europe is better understood by looking back at its history. For centuries, we have argued and fought with one another. Boundaries have changed. Countries have gained and lost dominance. And old feuds simmer and simmer. We all have stereotypes about one another, and perhaps some of them are partly true. And yet we know we are all in Europe, and that there are many ties that bind us, including religion, collaborations, wars (and the alliances therein) and so on. The European Union itself came out of a desire to avoid future conflict, yet itself is a source of endless niggles.

Europe and the EU is also a source of much political division within parties, notably within the UK Conservative party, which has for long been split by pro- and anti-European sentiment. This has come very much to the fore in the referendum last Thursday about whether we should stay or leave. Other parties were mostly for remaining, apart from the vocal right, most notably UKIP (The United Kingdom Independence Party), which specializes in populizing fascist views such as in demonizing immigrants, shrinking the state, increasing the military and so on.

Interestingly, there has been a surge in love from other European countries as they tried to persuade us to remain with them. Maybe this is because the UK has been a net contributor to the EU. Or maybe they think we add wisdom to the mix. Maybe. Britain has historically interfered and fought with European countries on a number of occasions, often winning. Europe is full of countries who think they are better than the other countries. Britain feels invulnerable, after nearly 1000 years of not being conquered. Germans feel superior, and have good evidence in such as their successful economy, though having lost to the UK in World War 2 (and a few other countries, of course, but which are largely ignored by UK historians). The French have been harried by the UK for centuries, then embarrassed by being rescued by the UK twice in the 20th century. We have also argued with the Dutch, Portugal, Spain and a host of other countries. It is no surprise that our friendships can get a little strained at times.

More persuasively, everyone from President Obama to collections of business leaders and Nobel laureates have pleaded with the UK population to remain in the EU. This weight of opinion persuaded me, though I believe there are no easy escape routes. Europe will continue to have its troubles. The euro will continue to wobble. Migrants from elsewhere will continue to arrive. Internal squabbles and bullying will not stop. Yet if we are do to anything about such issues, we just have to keep talking with them all. Glorious isolation doesn't work in this connected world.

A curious but perhaps unsurprising source of 'leave' votes came from traditional right-wing Labour voters. Yet this is not that surprising as this group includes many who feel disenfranchised and abandoned by successive governments, including the right-leaning Labour government of 1997-2010. The result is that they seek change without thinking too hard about the effect that change will bring. Anyone who taps their anger (as done so expertly by Donald Trump in America) can swing this large voting bloc. It is frustrating that people are persuaded so easily, though this site in particular should not be surprised.

The result, as much of the world knows, is that the UK public voted 52% to leave the EU (vs. 48% to remain). The fallout has already been massive, with the pound falling, trillions wiped off shares. Much of the commercial damage is due to confusion. Markets do not like uncertainty and will sell what they do not understand. David Cameron (Prime Minister) will be resigning, Jeremy Corbyn (the Leader of the Opposition) facing mutiny and the people who led the Brexit charge seemingly bereft of any detail about what they will do next. Scotland, who voted 'remain' will want to leave the UK and join the EU, though Spain says they will veto this as they fear similar moves by their own independence-minded regions.

What will happen next? Who knows. There has been a public petition calling for parliamentary discussion about a new referendum that has gained over 3 million signatories in a few days. If we continue the Brexit course, then we'll likely get a more right wing government. They will try to negotiate with Europe for a new trade deal, but will be punished for disloyalty and as a lesson to others who may want to leave.

What a mess!

Sunday 12-June-16

Designing online trust

Most of us have interacted online with other people, companies and websites. In doing so one of the early questions we wonder is whether the other side can be trusted. Whether we do or not has a great deal to do with how the website and interactions are designed for trust.

So how do we trust? First, we trust people who are reliable, including keeping promises on time and being competent, so they can deliver on their promises. To design for reliability, it is important to manage expectations, telling people what you will deliver, then always delivering, on time, on budget, and to specification.

We also need honesty in forming trust, so we look for truthfulness. This can be a problem when a site isi rying to sell us something as we may well suspect exaggeration of good points and concealment of bad points. The site should never knowingly mislead customers, as a betrayed customer gets angry, tells others, and never returns.

The third leg of trust is care. We trust those who seem to care about us, both passively ('do no harm') and the more helpful active care. Care as a component of trust is often forgotten, yet this has huge potential for building trust. A site can show care with simple, good design that is attractive, lets readers easily find what they need, and provides them with quality information. Offering helpful tips and otherwise giving without asking is likewise likely to make them feel good when they think of you.

And here are a few more things you can do with your site to build trust:

  • Include photos and full details about your products, as well as easy overviews.
  • Show photos of your people, smiling and looking good.
  • Allow reviews and star rating of your products.
  • Provide multiple ways for readers to contact you, such as email, phone and online chat.
  • Respond quickly and sympathetically to all communications.
  • Don't be defensive about criticism. Ask for more information.

The bottom line is to keep thinking about trust. Everything you do can build or destroy it -- and destruction is very easy, and can have devastating consequences. Figure out what trust you need and act accordingly. Do not expect blind loyalty -- web users are largely cynical about all the trickery that they see every day. Also do not 'wing it' with 'that will do' type tweaks. Think hard about trust and design for it, and, if you truly understand it, you will be far more likely to get the powerful trust that you need.

Sunday 05-June-16

Where will Bernie's votes go? The strange, strange US Presidential elections may get stranger still

The US Presidential elections this year have already been a humdinger. Donald Trump has confounded traditional Republicans by coming from the back to snatch the nomination. And the Democrats have had themselves a pretty good race, with socialist Bernie Sanders giving front-runner Hillary Clinton a darned good run for her money. So it looks like, short of any catastrophic revelations, that it will be Trump vs. Clinton.

A sensible conclusion is that Hillary will trounce Donald. Surely, there can't be that number of Americans who would vote for a President Trump. Yet the strangeness of this year's election could lead to not only lots of Republicans voting for Hillary, but also lots of Democrats voting for Donald.

How so?

Support for Donald Trump within the establishment Republican party has been slow, with a number of high-profile figures saying they will not vote for him. I've also got personal friends who always vote Republican but who are terrified at the thought of him becoming president. Many of these Republican traditionalists and thinkers will surely not vote for Trump and may well vote for Hillary as a protest or direct opposition to someone who they feel has hi-jacked their nomination process.

Yet there is a global populist fire raging, that has stirred up elections around the world. From the recently-elected Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines to the machinations of Syriza in Greece to the rise of UKIP in the UK, people are voting in their masses against traditional politicians and for outsiders and new parties who 'tell it like it is' and seem to be anti-corruption. In America, Trump has played this card very well, giving voice to many blue-collar workers who have felt abandoned and betrayed by Washington. And on the other side of the fence, Bernie Sanders, a self-confessed socialist, has raised the hopes of many Democrats for a more honest government (while quietly ignoring the cost of many of his proposed reforms, of course).

So where will Bernie's votes go?

I'd say that there are likely quite a few Democrats who like the populist message, and who, perhaps even to their own surprise, would be rather attracted to Donald Trump's non-traditional-Republican rhetoric. To add to this, Hillary has already lost some large segments that should have liked her, such as younger women. And these cynical Democratic Hillary-dislikers might just, like the anti-Trump Republicans, vote for the other side rather than for her. A lot may hinge on what Bernie asks of them when he (finally) concedes.

And don't forget Trump's mastery of persuasion. He wrote 'The Art of the Deal' long ago and has been honing his persuasive skills ever since. He seems to say awful things, but, perhaps not so remarkably, they have worked for him. Expect him to change his tone soon as he woos swing voters and Democrats who are not so taken with Hillary.

So, while Hillary may pick up a good number of anti-Trump Republican electors, Trump may pick up populist-liking and anti-Hillary Democrats. And given Trump's added expertise in manipulative politics, the race could be closer than one might imagine.

Sunday 29-May-16

Strange bedfellows: The idealists and the thugs

You could perhaps be forgiven for thinking idealists who seek some kind of perfection are pretty much polar opposite to thugs who gain pleasure from wanton harm. Yet there are times when they end up in the same bed.

A recent example is ISIS (or whatever you call it). On one hand, they are religious idealists, seeking purity in their beliefs. And, on the other hand, they seem to revel in atrocities. What is it that makes people seek perfection yet resort to aggressive means? Is it about the end justifying the means?

It's not just terrorists who seek perfection through aggression. Try arguing with any fundamentalist and you'll likely find they quickly become angry when you contradict their beliefs. Anger is often a consequence of fear, as the 'fight or flight' response takes the fight route. When we are angry, we effectively say 'Do as I want or I will harm you.' Christian history is littered with wars, from the Crusades onwards, in which God is always on our side.

One of the telling aspects of the strange marriage of idealism and thuggery can be seen in the degrading of recruitment strategies. At one time, they sought true idealists, but when these started running out, they accepted those with lesser religious ideals and just a greater desire to fight. The truth of the human condition here is that there are more thugs than idealists. Thugs also make useful front-line cannon fodder, allowing the elite idealists to stand back and pontificate.

Idealism and thuggery also appears in many organisations. You can see it in politics, where ideals of equality easily turn into bully-boy tactics that just seek compliance. It appears in business, where nice ideas of customer- and employee-friendly companies get waylaid by the pressures of sales targets and share prices.

Those who survive with their idealism intact often seem to keep things small, are very careful who they allow to join their peaceful group, and deal quickly with any nascent aggression. Their senior people understand the dangers of Machiavellian thuggery that, while achieving short-term goals will destroy longer-term ideals. They build robust cultures that both ensure the organisation survives and also that it does so without compromising core values.

Sunday 22-May-16

How to be intimidating. Or not.

I recently had a conversation about intimidation with a person who was concerned that they were scaring others, even when they tried not to do so. Here are some of the thoughts that came out of that very interesting conversation.

Intimidating others means engendering fear, often with the purpose of coercing them into doing something they do not want to do. We can also do this accidentally or deliberately - the bottom line is that the other person feels a degree of fear as a result of their encounter with us.

Ways we can intimidate others include:

  • Staring at them, particularly without blinking.
  • Getting too close to them, entering their 'personal space'.
  • Speaking aggressively, even about other people.
  • Moving jerkily or suddenly, especially when you are close or when actions simulate harm (eg. chopping motion or with fist).
  • Behaving erratically and unpredictably, so they do not know what you will say or do next.

The ease with which we can accidentally intimidate suggests that we might reflect on how we act around others. Maybe we don't mean to be intimidating, yet it's possible we sometimes are, though without really noticing it. Paradoxically, when are act in intimidating ways, it is often a response to feeling intimidated ourselves. We sense aggression and meet fire with fire, escalating our aggressive stance. This can be overt and deliberate, but is often subtle and not noticed, even by us. Yet even small changes in how we act can make others uncomfortable.

A way to monitor this is to watch how other people react around you. Do they look alarmed? Do they back away? Do they give you space? Do they avoid you altogether? If so, try to see yourself through their eyes and decide consciously how you want them to respond to you, and consequently how you need to act around them.

To be non-intimidating, just do the reverse of intimidating action. For example:

  • Look warmly at them, but not for too long.
  • Give them space and act respectfully.
  • Listen attentively and act in kindly ways.
  • Be positive about other people.
  • Move smoothly and naturally. Keep hands open.


Sunday 15-May-16

Who moved my table? Nobody, but I should have!

Last weekend I was helping out with 'Bee Friendly Monmouthshire' a local voluntary group that is working to increase awareness and action in protecting pollinators, including butterflies, moths, hoverflies and, of course bees. There's around 260 varieties of wild bees in the UK and without them, farmers would have to spend about 1.8B in artificial pollination, yet the pressures of survival means they are still planting monocultures that limit pollinator feed, cutting undergrowth where pollinators live and using poisons that kill pollinators as well as pests.

But enough of that. Much of my work with BfM is in persuasive wording, but last weekend I was just manning a stall at a country house nearby which was opening its gardens to the public as a part of the National Gardens Scheme.

The situation was that there was a set of tables selling various things just next to the house, snagging visitors as they came to see the gardens. Near me was a range of plant stalls, selling flowers and vegetable seedlings at quite reasonable prices. I put my table a little away from them at what I thought was a nice angle, in a curve nearer the front door of the house. People like bees, I though. They'll come to see me as they walk in and not be distracted by the other stalls.

I was quite wrong. I was not the bee. They were. The real attraction for people coming to visit the gardens was the cheap plants. Not some guy in the corner going on about bees.

What I should have done was to move my table up next to the plant stalls, so as the visitors moved down the line, they ended up with me. But somehow I didn't do this. Why? Because of embarrassment and pride. If I'd moved my table, I would have to admit that I was wrong. Even if no words were exchanged with the other stallholders, they would know -- I would be admitting to having been wrong.

Darn that pride. It stops us doing the right thing so often. Next time, I'll swallow it. Really.

Sunday 08-May-16

As, Bs and the Three Secrets of a Successful Life

I recently answered a question on Quora that asked 'My teacher said B students will work for the A students. Is this true?'. I felt for the student, whose situation I did not know. I also felt for the teacher -- I've been there and motivating students can be a hugely frustrating task.

Here is my answer to the question. Yes, I know it's not quite the answer asked. I was trying to answer the real question underneath:

What your teacher is probably really saying is that the students who are getting Bs but who are capable of getting As are showing a tendency to be lazy. Life is generally not kind to those who are lazy, and indeed they do tend to end up working for people who are more diligent.

The secret of success is often described as 'hard work and luck', which pretty much describes my life. I worked my socks off, had my fair share of luck and retired from 'real' work at 58, although five years later I'm still as busy as I've every been.

I've heard a number of successful people say that the harder they work, the luckier they get, which suggests that what people call luck is not random chance, but being able to see opportunities and then grasping them with both hands. It also suggests that successful people are grateful for the opportunities that they have had -- and as gratitude is closely linked with happiness, this explains how you can be both successful and happy (and relatively few people have both).

So what does this mean for you?

School is about opportunity. Take it, while you can. Grasp it with both hands and see it as a fabulous chance to build a great future. Work hard, because every hour invested now will likely pay you back hugely in the future.

If, after this, you get a B, then be grateful, because otherwise you would probably have got a C or D. If you get an A, be grateful too, then seek the step-up opportunities that this gives you. Even if you get a C or whatever, you can still feel good because you have done your best. Look for strengths in other subjects, because we all have different talents. Do not give up because failure only happens when you stop trying.

Work hard. Grasp opportunities. Be grateful. It's the secret of a successful life.

Your comments

Another great article! I loved the last paragraph. Will add it to my quote list.

 -- Ivan M.

Sunday 01-May-16

Free Speech, Dignity and Tolerance

In free society, there are two counterbalancing sets of rights and duties. Firstly, the right of free speech allows me to speak my mind without fear of reprisal. This places a duty of tolerance on those who may dislike what I say. On the other hand, there is also a right of dignity, whereby speakers have a duty to be considerate in their speech, self-censoring before speaking.

This creates a continuing tension, where we want to express ourselves while repressing others. This can be seen where opposing people each claim the right and impose the duty that suits them best. A common instance is in religion, where people of one faith are intolerant of people with different beliefs, yet expect tolerance of their own outspoken views

There is a point in here about power, including personal power to speak and act at will, as well as formal power of authority and law. The right of free speech assumes those insulted are powerful enough to silence or take harmful revenge on controversial speakers. Laws of free speech hence give protection to speakers and place a duty on listeners to hold back any desire to attack. On the other hand, the right of dignity assumes many are powerless to defend against those who cause distress or orher harm by what they say. Laws here include those around libel, harassment, equality and incitement.

It is a sad indictment of the human condition that we tend to selfish lack of consideration. When insulted, we feel justified in responding harshly. Worse, bullies gain pleasure in the distress of others as they boost their own sense of control and power. To counteract this tendency, social norms and formal laws form a structure that seeks to balance freedom and protection, moderating more powerful people from using harmful speech or revenge against speakers.

There has in recent years been a steady increase in laws and norms that support dignity over free speech. While the rights of the vulnerable are of course important, this has transferred power to their protectors, some of whom abuse this power as they seek to silence their critics while trumpeting their own cause. The move to dignity rights has also led to increasing sensitivity, where people take insult more easily. Paradoxically, this leads to a more paranoid and less tolerant society. Indeed, the outrage that intolerance provokes can be linked to much modern conflict.

For people of different beliefs to coexist, perhaps we need to rebalance a little, allowing more insult and expecting more toleration than outrage. The happy medium should be both a right to talk without fear of reprisals, and a duty to be tolerant of those who speak their minds. When we express our views, we should be both fearless and considerate, not just one or the other.

Sunday 24-March-16

How do you deal with someone who has a superiority complex?

I sometimes respond to questions on Quora, in which I try to encourage people to be positive and thoughtful. Here's one I wrote recently on the question of how to handle people who always seem to act in a superior way, as if they are better than you and you are inferior. It's an annoying situation that we all face, some on a daily basis.

First watch them. Do they act superior with everyone, or mostly you? If the latter, then look for things you do that unintentionally encourages them. For example do you feel inferior at any level? You can also ask a trusted friend who can see both of you in action.

Also think: what exactly do they do that bothers me? Why does it bother me? Really why.

The above may offer you a way to change how you react to them that helps you feel better.

You can also try to understand what is driving them to act this way. It may be a reaction to them feeling inferior and over-compensating. If you can get a better handle on how they are thinking and feeling, you will have a far better chance of managing the situation.

Much human behaviour is based in the desire for status. You can see it in many everyday conversations and the way we try to impress people and get their approval. You also see it in the way people try to push others down so they can (relatively) rise. This can lead to status battles, where the real issue is not about business and not about respect. The pattern is often win-lose. At best both people get a little out of most encounters. At worst it is lose-lose.

Try to step away from status and win-lose thinking. Try moving the conversation and situation towards win-win. They will often resist this as they see you winning as them losing. Persist with adult, peer interactions (not parent-child) with them. Be authentic. Be patient. Avoid being negative.

You can fight back, but only do so when you have given the positive approach a good go. Only do so when you are ready. Do not pick a fight you will lose. Aim for short, sharp responses that will make them think hard about what they are doing (and give them time to do this).

In the end, if they cannot move from their superiority position and insist on taking more than they give, then go elsewhere. If they are friends, dump them. If they are people at work, move to another position or get another job elsewhere.



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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