Musical Memory

The_Music_MachineThey were the cream of the crop students in this high school history class, listening attentively to a teacher who had come back from retirement just to teach such a group. Strolling back and forth in front of a map bedeck white board he inquired loudly. “Does anyone know what happened in the United States between 1963 and ‘68? There were a number of good answers that could have been given for the turbulent times that were so influential in the coming of age for many baby boomers, but the millennial age students just sat there frozen.

Finally one child took a stab at describing that time, “Simon and Garfunkel wrote a lot of good music?” she responded questioning.

“Yes, that’s true,” he could not help but smile, “Though not exactly what I was looking for.”

But it didn’t matter that this teacher had previously shared his own experience with the Civil Rights movement and as a Vietnam veteran. The class took this begrudging acknowledgement as a prompt to ask if he was referring to the music of Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix or a number of groups who rose to fame in the sixties. It seemed as if these students knew the music the previous generations well, but not their politics and history.

When I was growing up I had very little interest in the popular music of my parents’ time. Most of it seemed very bland and mostly based on Broadway musicals. Coming of age during a depression, they certainly didn’t have money for indulging in phonograph recordings of the latest music. However, I knew a bit of their history particularly that surrounding the United States presidents and World War 2. In fact when in high school I could rattle off the countries, heads of state and even generals who figured so prominently in this war.

Why did these apparently knowledgeable students know more about popular culture than politics that occurred during the parent’ time? World War 2 was considered an honorable war, fought against villainous leaders. It had been glamorized in countless movies and books, and has not suffer from the same denouncement as the conflict in Vietnam. The baby boomer’s ambivalence and even resistance to supporting a country’s war efforts made political events not clear cut. But their music, a unique combination of folk and jazz that led to the birth of rock and roll, that seemed to be something to brag about.

Each generation tends to identify the previous one by what they valued. So the jury is still out on the millennial generation. We will have to wait and see what their children remember their parents proudly telling them to identify their place in history.

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Different in the same way

600px-Tie-dyeIn 1966 my parents decided it was time to take a grand tour of the country. For three weeks we traveled west of the Mississippi, camping most of the way, hopping from national park to national park (Thank you Teddy Roosevelt, the parks were and still are an excellent idea.).  Halfway through the trip we ended up in San Francisco. Dad wanted to see Golden Gate Bridge, Mom wanted to see Fisherman’s Wharf, and I wanted to ride the cable cars up and down the thrillingly steep streets. My older brother, who had just started to high school, wanted to visit Haight-Ashbury.

So one evening our family, parents with four children nicely dressed for our visit to the big city, walked through this quiet bohemian neighborhood with rows of old apartments crammed against the sidewalk. We stopped in a small store filled with a strange assortment of items; the walls were papered in posters with brilliantly colored surreal patterns. It was the type of establishment that would later be called a head shop. There my older brother got his prized underground newspaper. I found the posters an interesting style, and learned what “psychedelic” meant, but I am sure we weren’t the typical clientele in this birthplace of the hippie movement.

What if we had taken the grand tour of the country a year later, in 1967? We would have arrived at San Francisco when over 100,000 teenagers and college students were descending on this same neighborhood to celebrate a counterculture of yet to be illegal drugs and free love. I am sure my parents would have vetoed my brother’s request, but as we were a year early, I had the privilege of sight-seeing in Haight-Ashbury before it became overwhelmingly famous as a hippie haven, not realizing that my brother knew things ahead of his peers. (Although my brother was aware of the hippie movement, he was never drawn into it.)

Now that I reflect on my past, it is amazing that a crowd as large as the baby boomers conformed as much to each other as they did. Perhaps it was the sheer numbers of people born from 1946 to 1964 that caused business to cater to them. Fashions aimed at girls my age – short, brightly flowered A-lined shifts, embroidered caftans, bell bottom jeans – were obviously divergent from what our mothers wore, but the same as all the other girls. The guys my age hummed the same tunes. Almost all knew the words to the latest song by Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Doors. I wasn’t completely comfortable with that kind of conformity. Hearing the Billboard top forty played over and over again on the radio was a bit boring. When I moved into a new high school, I came dressed in one of my fashionable turn-of-the decade seventies outfits. I was an outsider, only having  a few friends that hung out on the fringe. One friend pointed  out to me that it was the same outfit that a popular girl had worn. I never wore it again.

As I look back on growing up as a baby boomer, I now see that my generation’s break with the values of the prior generation, distrust of government, and rejection of consumerism were often orchestrated events. Many of my peers thought that rebelling against parents was a universal trait. We wanted to be different from the older generation, but weren’t willing to travel that path alone, or even in small groups. The sit-ins, marches and the rock music festivals were a way to be with others with similar tastes, to be surrounded by a large company of peers. We wanted to be different in the same way.

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When we were young

04242012semana_de_la_cultura086As the facilitator circled the table asking the typical questions, such as “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” I felt like I was being a bit oppositional. If I admitted to being born in Indiana, anyone who had even visited the state would ask me about it, and as my parents moved to another state when I was six weeks old and never returned, I was basically clueless about life in Indiana. So I answered “I’m from nowhere,” and explained my dilemma.

Unfazed he asked, “Where did you grow up?”

“Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, three different times… Mississippi. We moved every few years.”

“Okay, where did you graduate from high school?” He was being cautious, as some of the attendees were older than me and never found a need to go beyond high school to find a decent job.

“I didn’t.” I replied, “But I have a Master’s degree.” That was a bit of story to explain, too. My family moved to Mississippi at the end of my junior year during the factious days of public school integration. The Deep South high schools were far behind the ones I had attended in Illinois and Ohio. So, on the recommendation of a local professor, I applied for college, and got accepted, even receiving a small scholarship. They did not see me as any different than students coming from unaccredited private high schools.

“And what do you do?”

My identity is supposed to be all about work. But I’ve changed careers multiple times. Currently, I work in a field born about the same time as I was and still have to explain what an instructional designer does to ninety-nine percent of the people I meet.

As he questioned the younger people in the room, I realized that my path of growing up – living multiple places, changing careers, working in a new field and returning to college for more education – was the path more likely to be taken by millennials than baby boomers.  I did lack the opportunity to teeth on technology growing up. The first computer I glimpsed at age six contained banks of reel-to-reel tapes with blinking lights and filled a bedroom sized area. But I didn’t get my hands on a computer until high school. It was the only one in the entire high school, and it had its own closet, a much tinier room than that filled by the first computer I saw. One had to create programs in Basic on punch cards and wait until the teacher tested them to see if they actually worked on the computer.

However, my generation was marked by events as impactful as growing up with computers and the internet as part of daily life. These included the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, which resulted in a distrust of authority and an attempt to make a complete break with life style of the older generation by many. This may seem ironic to those who now see baby boomers as conventional and bound to their jobs as proof of self-worth. Sometimes I suspect the grumbling about this young “Millennial” generation is just a projection of our own thoughts. We expect the following generation to make a break with the previous one, because that’s exactly what we did. Why should they be any different than us, when we were young?

photo By Angélica Martínez – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City, CC BY-SA 3.0,


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Why leaders aren’t self-aware

stephs (6)Karl Jung noted that the trait of extroversion was marked by focused on externals without a great deal of introspection. If carried to an “ideal” or completely extroverted state this trait would result in lack of self-awareness.[1] Perhaps the last century’s swing towards the outgoing, outspoken, in charge leader, who always exuded confidence (whether there was a cause for this or not) has created the increasing need for cultivating self-aware leaders. Research by the Hay Group that compared individuals’ concept of themselves against that held by their peers, and their self-perceived abilities against actual abilities has indicated that self-awareness is dismally low (under 20%) among managers. Knowing your own abilities, shortcomings, and impact on others is assumed to be essential for leadership.[2]

Research on self-awareness has shown that an increase in self-awareness can be related to a decrease other “desirable” traits such as self-acceptance and self-esteem. Recent research conducted on university campuses has come up with some intriguing results when self-awareness is increased in students. When students became aware of themselves while filling out a self-esteem survey, their assessment of themselves started a noticeable drift downwards.[3] There was also a significant negative relationship between self-awareness and self-acceptance. Students who were higher in neuroticism were less self-aware and also less self-accepting. While at the college level there appeared to be no significant difference in self-awareness among extroverts and introverts (the percentage of introverts in college is significantly higher than general population), the more self-aware introverts showed lower self-acceptance.[4]

We expect leaders to like themselves and are reluctant to follow someone who admits to weaknesses and expresses doubts. However, if people are actually honest they would have to admit that they are not thrilled by the results when they examine their own internal emotions, motivations and how their actions affect other people. Therefore some willingly avoid looking two deeply into these things.This partial blindness does actually seem to provide a benefit to those seeking leadership positions. Research has shown that individuals who are self-deceptive when it comes to assessing themselves, are more optimistic and also better at convincing others to trust in an unrealistically optimistic outcome.[5]

So will the quest to improve self-awareness result in diminishing other traits that we have come to accept as synonymous with leadership?


[1] Rudd, Anthony. Self, Value, and Narrative: A Kierkegaardian Approach, OUP Oxford, Oct 25, 2012
[2] Baldoni, John. Few Executives are Self-aware, But Women Have the Edge. May 09, 2016
[3] John Ickes, William. Wicklund, Robert A. and Ferris C. Brian. Self awareness leads to lower self esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Volume 9, Issue 3, May 1973, Pages 202–219
[4] Vingoe, Frank J Rogers’ self theory and Eysenck’s extraversion and neuroticism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 32(5, Pt.1), Oct 1968, 618-620.
[5] Nauert, Rick. Overconfident People Likely to be Overrated.


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The price of self-awareness

Investing_money (1)Much of what I’ve perused recently on self-awareness tout the benefit of meditation in increasing self-awareness. This has led to a boom in meditation instructors providing both classes and retreats for mastering the techniques. Search for meditation on the internet and you will find hundreds, perhaps thousands of instructors willing to teach this skill for a fee. Many practitioners insist that you cannot learn to meditate properly without this kind of guidance and support, warning that students will not learn to overcome initial pitfalls and move on to a higher level of awareness.

I wondered how hard could it be to sit erect and still, eyes closed, palms up, chanting the same word over and controlling your breath, listening to your heartbeat, and continually emptying your mind? Now, I think about it, this could be a difficult feat to persist in an activity that is so boring. Indeed, one of the mistakes that some mediation teachers mentioned was people falling asleep during meditation (But  isn’t it supposed to be relaxing?). Another one was that people simply didn’t see what they were accomplishing through mediation and would give up. They needed encouragement to work hard if they wanted to improve at it. People do not just pay for an instructor, they pay for a coach to bolster their confidence, to keep selling them the product they have bought, to convince them they are accomplishing something when they do not see the advertised results (e.g. relief of stress, better concentration).

Claims are made that meditation relieves stress, improves ability to concentrate and generally increases sense of happiness and well-being. But, then people would not pay fees varying from a few hundred to over a thousand 1000.00 U.S. dollars to learn a skill that made no claims. The newest claims that attract CEOs and business owners is that meditation increases awareness and ability to concentrate, improving their business acumen and making it possible to grow their business in stress ridden economy.

This has left me wondering if meditation, which was originally a tenet of Buddhism, has become the newest “investment.” People invest in it making others wealthy and expecting that it improves their own ability to make money.

Photo –Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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Learning not to be self-aware

dec steph 199Recently I was reading research about grammar police, the kind of people who notice every little misspelling in your writing and assume that you are ignorant based on these errors. Evidently they are disagreeable – certifiably disagreeable. One of the factors in the Five Factor Personality Analysis (often called the Big Five) is Agreeableness. In a research projects, subjects read e-mails both with and without spelling and grammar errors, and then estimated how well they would like the person. Those that downgraded their estimation of the person the most showed a correspondingly low score on Agreeableness on the Big Five. No big deal, you probably expected that to be true.

One of the other factors of the Big Five is Extraversion. Introverts who indicated that good grammar was important to them, were more sensitive to these errors and downgraded the likability of the author of the e-mail much more severely than did introverts who didn’t care about grammar. Overall introverts where not as generous with their estimation of this unknown person as the extroverts. However, there was a definite correlation between how much (or how little) they cared about grammar and how much they expected to like the e-mail correspondent.

Results for extroverts were a little perplexing, “Surprisingly, extraverts who reported grammar as more important were less sensitive to typos than extroverts who felt good grammar was less important.”[1] Some extroverts said grammar was more important, but behaved as it was not.  Why were they not noticing the typos? Did they over-estimate their ability at spelling and grammar? Or was this lack of self-awareness intentional?

This research may have provided a serendipitous insight into self-awareness and why it is rising on the list of desired traits of business leaders. Past researchers have found that the managers and executives are predominantly extroverts. Self-aware people are introspective and think about their own values and motives compared to their actions. But as hard as they try they soon come to realize that they are not capable of behaving consistently according to their own values. There are different ways to respond to this realization: change values to match actions, give up being self-aware because “Nobody is perfect” or intently focus on every error and spiral into depression.

Extroverts tend to avoid this last option. Evidently, simply avoiding reflecting on the effects of their actions is their preferred way of dealing with internal conflict. However, this lower self-awareness has some negative side effects when leaders fail to accurately estimate their own skill or understand their own motivation. We have yet to see whether self-awareness can be taught, or if it is as difficult as teaching extroverted people not to behave like extroverts.

Photo by Dave Cachero
[1] Boland JE, Queen R (2016) If You’re House Is Still Available, Send Me an Email: Personality Influences Reactions to Written Errors in Email Messages. PLoS ONE 11(3): e0149885. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149885


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Self awareness and masking emotions

Eggs_Expressions_Happy_Sad1According to its original meaning, over 99.9 % of humans are self-aware, which of course is not enough to be considered special. But now it has been chosen as the word to express the next, new, promising quality that distinguishes leaders from others. According to Daniel Goleman’s description of emotional intelligence, the meaning of self-awareness has expanded in multiple directions. It includes recognizing and regulating your own emotion, understanding your motivations, and being aware of the impact that you have on others. In addition it has a cognitive side, knowing your strengths and limits.[1]

Let’s start with the idea of recognizing and regulating your emotions. In other words, you realize that you are becoming increasingly irritated another employee who chatters constantly with minimal output. But you decide to be self-aware and not speak your mind because that employee will become astonished that you would hurt them by uttering words, such critical words. Even young children learn to mask disappointment, anger, and fear, so it would seem this skill is widespread. However, unless you have figured out how to change the way you feel when things irritate you, concealing your emotions comes at the cost of consuming energy.

People often see that the polite route is not the best way to get other people moving. An angry tone is a good motivator so people use it; they use it too much. The cost is that those around you become disengaged and demotivated. They get skilled at avoiding you. After the initial rush to get complete a task is over; they tend to find a corner to hide in, or get very good at looking busy.

The delicate balance between expressing feelings that are “negative” so people know they have fallen short of expectations or overstepped their boundaries, and saying words that are openly critical may be an nearly impossible balance. You may learn to regulate the expression of emotions, but you cannot regulate how sensitive or oblivious people are to what you express. People who are sensitive may take offense to a statement that is not even noticed by others. However, you should be aware that a heightened sense of response may be their way of manipulating others. People that are oblivious to your feelings may seem to lack empathy, but they are also harder to manipulate  emotionally, which is not a bad thing.

This all leads to the conclusion you can be too self-aware, paying constant attention to how other respond to you and burning out through attempts to regulate how you appear, based on their responses. This cost of self-awareness may be one of the reasons why Daniel Goleman finds most leaders are low in self awareness.[2]

Photo from

[1] Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books
[2]  Goleman, D. Are Women More Emotionally Intelligent Than Men? Psychology Today, Posted Apr 29, 2011.1.
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Solving the problem of being finite

Co-Counselling_listenWhenever I see “problem solving” listed as a component of emotional intelligence, I tend to regard the rest of what the author says on that subject with skepticism. Typically problem solving is considered a combination of creativity and logic to generate an innovative idea and put it to practical use. Creativity hardly seems like it is related to emotional intelligence, judging by the character of creative people. In fact researchers have found that one recurring trait of this group is a lack of regard for social skills. They tend to be less considerate, more likely to find fault with others, less agreeable and more rebellious than the average person.[1] [2]

However, research is keeps popping up which shows a connection between emotional intelligence and problem solving.  Some of these studies deal with problem solving by teams in which correlation is found between teams with higher totals on tests of emotional intelligence and their ability  to complete problem solving tasks.[3] It makes sense that team members who stubbornly try to hog all the attention or refuse to cooperate are going to impede the work of others. But there is also research that indicates that emotional intelligence gives individuals the edge in problem solving. [4]

The emotional facilitation of thinking and problem solving is included in Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso’s Multifactor Emotional Intelligence Scale Test (MEIS), a common tests used to assess emotional intelligence. This group of researches has conceived of “emotional intelligence” as a cognitive ability, and the test is composed of written and visual questions as opposed to putting individuals into situations in which observers rate their emotional intelligence. [5]

Research has shown that people who score high on both cognitive tests and the MEIS exhibit the best skills in problem solving.[6] However, some researchers have found that higher cognitive skills are an even better predictor than high emotional intelligence for problem-solving skills, and other “life skills” such as lowering anxiety, increasing perception, and coping.[7]

So what is going on here? You have to look carefully at research on “EQ” and problem solving to see if IQ was accounted for, or even determined. There is a likelihood that emotional intelligence is similar to creativity in that it tends to increase with intelligence until it reaches a cap. People with IQ’s above 120 (considered the top end of the average range) do not show greater creativity  than people with IQ’s at that point. In fact people with IQ’s at the high end have a correlating  decrease in creativity. Emotional intelligence also seems to improve with cognitive intelligence up to a point and then apparently decreases. This seems to be particularly noticeable with people that have higher mathematical/logical skills. However, research has yet to determine what that cap point is.

So no matter how much you want to increase cognitive ability, creativity and emotional intelligence to be above average  in all areas, you will have to settle for something less. As much as we would like ignore the fact, human intelligence is very finite.

[1] BI Norwegian Business School (2013, April 2). The hunt for the creative individual. Science Daily. Retrieved January 11, 2014, from­/releases/2013/04/130402091133.htm
[2] King, L.A. Walker, L.M. Broyles, S.J. Creativity and the Five-Factor Model. Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 30, Issue 2, Pages 189-203 (2013)
[3] Peter J. Jordan & Ashlea C. Troth, Managing Emotions During Team Problem Solving: Emotional Intelligence and Conflict Resolution, Human Performance, Volume 17, Issue 2, 2004,pages 195-218
[5] Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R. (2004). Emotional intelligence and the construction and regulation of feelings . Applied & Preventive Psychology 4:197-208 (1995)
[6] Laura Thi Lam & Susan L. Kirby, Is Emotional Intelligence an Advantage? An Exploration of the Impact of Emotional and General Intelligence on Individual Performance. The Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 142, Issue 1, 2002, pages 133-143
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Reading emotions

fear06 047bImagine that you are sitting down to holiday dinner at which a number of friends and family have gathered. The host, Micaela is young, a bit nervous, rushing about trying to please the guests. Timidly she offers a plate of brown patties, with a fine grain in plate of broth. When asked “What is it?” she responds smiling, “Pate foie gras… goose liver paste.” Sandy, sitting across the table momentarily curls up the side of her mouth in an sign of contempt.

Thoughts go rushing through your head. Did Micaela not see Sandy’s expression? Is she insulted by that look of disgust? Perhaps you should comment about what delicacy pate foie gras is to show your empathy for Micaela. But then, maybe Sandy finds force feeding geese a type of animal cruelty, and the expression of disgust was an automatic gut response. Perhaps you should encourage Sandy to speak up by reminding your host that some people may have ethical reasons not to eat this dish.

Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to read others emotions. However, most instruction in emotional intelligence does not tell you what to do with the skill of quickly detecting emotions. Basically it informs you that emotional intelligence will be a benefit if you learn it. So, now you have honed your skill to the point of recognizing a momentary micro-expression. But empathizing with a person requires a demonstration that you are taking their side.  Do you choose based on which person can benefit you the most?

This same interaction that occurred at the dinner table is repeated ad infinitum around the conference table in businesses. Emotional intelligence can be welded as a weapon to point out rivals’ doubt that they thought they were concealing. It can be used to find the secret to persuading others to join your camp, when there aren’t enough facts to support your ideas. Research on emotion recognition has shown that people who are skilled in reading feelings have often gained that ability to serve themselves, rather than others.

University of Michigan research has found that people who exhibit the personality trait, exploitativeness, (part of the scale to measure narcissism) are as good at reading expressions or emotion as empathetic people are. Two studies, one with 100 college students and another with 88 adults both resulted in this same conclusion. The major difference between subjects that scored higher in dispositional empathy and those that had narcissistic tendencies of a similar magnitude, is that the exploitative people could recognize negative emotions better. Researcher Sara Konath theorizes that this enables them to detect vulnerability in others. [1]

However, you may be aware that people tend not to hide “positive” affects like happiness, or contentment as much as they do anger, fear, disgust, etc. So in the practical everyday realm the narcissists are better at reading hidden emotions. Back to the dinner table… have you decided to empathize with the nervous host or disgusted guest? Perhaps considering the kind of person who can read negative emotions the best, you should just be quiet and not say anything at all.

[1] Konrath, S., Corneille, O., Bushman, B.J., and Luminet, O. The Relationship Between Narcissistic Exploitativeness, Dispositional Empathy, and Emotion Recognition Abilities Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, March 2014, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 129-143
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When Emotional Intelligence is a liability

breaking game (3).jpgOne of the four major branches of emotional intelligence (according to John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey) is the ability to reflectively regulate or manage emotions. This applies to managing your own emotions rather than those of other people. According to research by this team, people who understand their own emotions and “are confident about their abilities to regulate their affect, seem to be able to repair their moods more quickly and effectively following failure.” [1]

There are two things about this finding that piqued by interest. As regulating one’s own emotions and repairing one’s own mood are basically the same ability. These two skills should definitely be found in the same people. However, they only “seem” to do this. The person who manages their own emotions may only appear to be minimizing disappointment, frustration and anger. They may be just as disturbed as the person who frets, sulks and rants after their plans bite the dust. However, the first group is definitely more pleasant to be around.

People who are able to mold their own emotions to create favorable impressions of themselves must work at this. You do not remain calm and collected when others panic if you don’t’ put effort into learning how to do this. At least most people don’t. But just maybe you are one of those people who can because you never exhibit much emotion. Maybe you’ve been told to be more open and expressive, because people cannot read you. Of course if a person is really able to manipulate their own affect, others are not really reading them either.

However, there is an advantage to emotional intelligence that is rated fair to middling. Controlling expressiveness come at a price, and one of the costs seems to be less expertise in skills that require logic. Psychologists Dana Joseph (University of Central Florida) and Daniel Newman (University of Illinois) analyzed every study they could find on the connection between job performance and emotional intelligence. Interestingly. certain types of jobs are performed better by people who don’t read others emotions and regulate their own. In these positions, such as mechanic, scientist or accountant, people with higher emotional intelligence typically exhibited poorer performance.[2]

While it is a good idea to learn how to control exhibits of anger and disgust. It is not necessarily a bad thing to show a lack of enthusiasm or empathy. In learning the emotional expressiveness that enables you to persuade others, you may be sacrificing just as important skills that are part of very necessary professions.

[1] Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, & Palfai, 1993 (…Mood%20Meas%20and%20Mood%20Cong/CA1995SaloveyMayer.pdf)



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