Archive for November, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Organized Mind

Do you sometimes feel braindead or simply mentally overloaded? The book The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin gave me some very interesting and practical tips how to deal with it. And also how to convince my family that order is really great for us.


Here are 6 key thoughts:

1. The brain can only focus on a limited number of stimuli at a time.

Have you ever told yourself that you’d like to “get organized?” It’s an easy promise to make, but difficult to put into action. So where can you get started?

Well, before we even approach this challenge, we must first understand in greater detail the way our mind works, more specifically, our attentional system. This is the way our brain handles and categorizes information. The times we live in pose a great challenge to this system, because our brains aren’t equipped to cope with the flood of new facts and sights that we face everyday. Instead, brains work best when concentrating on one thing at a time.

This was vital for our ancestors, who hunted successfully by staying highly focused. Their thoughts would only be disrupted by important events, such as an approaching predator.

Nowadays, we’re constantly attempting to do many things at once. Driving a car, listening to the radio, thinking about an upcoming business meeting – it’s not unusual that all these things happen simultaneously. This is something that our brain has not evolved to do successfully, which means that multitasking comes at a price.
When we switch our attention between different activities, our brain is unable to function effectively. This in turn causes us to make thoughtless mistakes, or forget and misplace things.

In order to better understand our attentional system, we also need to consider how our brain decides how to divide its attention. It’s all to do with the brain’s remarkable ability to detect changes.

Our brains are more likely to pay attention to changes than constants. For example, imagine you’re driving your car. You suddenly notice that the road feels bumpy. Prior to this, you didn’t even consider how even the street was, simply because this was not useful information.

But that realization could be vital, because it alerts you to a treacherous change in surface or a problem with your car.
Changing circumstances can pose a threat to our survival.

2. Because we’re surrounded by more and more information, we’re forced to make more and more decisions.

Decisions are part of everyday life: Should we opt for the cheaper internet plan, or pay more and get unlimited data? Should we respond to this email now, or read these texts first? We confront decisions like these nearly every minute. But how can our brain cope with this non-stop flow of decisions when it originally evolved to process one idea at a time?

It’s simple: we can manage the flood of information by focusing our attention. But how, exactly?

As we learned previously, our brain instinctively concentrates on the information that is most important for us.
Here’s an example: imagine you’re on a busy street, desperately looking for your lost dog. You automatically fade out all unnecessary details like the people, cars and buses, and only focus on things that are the same size and color as your dog. So unless there are a lot of other things on this street that are about knee-height, fluffy and brown, your brain immediately makes it easier to find your beloved pet.

This automatic process of honing our focus down to what’s necessary should also be reflected in our decision making. In other words, you shouldn’t spend too much time on less important everyday choices. Instead, find shortcuts and ways to simplify your decision making.

For example, one type of decision we often need to make is about purchasing products or services that can make our lives easier. A good way to analyze these decisions is by thinking about the monetary value of our own time, because it allows us to compare it to the benefit the product promises.

Let’s say you’re thinking about hiring someone to clean your home instead of doing it yourself. Just ask yourself: Would you be willing to pay $50 for two extra hours of free time? If the answer is yes, then go for it without deliberating any further!

Now that we’ve learned how to streamline our decision making, the following will show us how to organize more aspects of our lives in the most effective way.

3. Find a designated place for every single object.

When was the last time you lost your keys, phone or glasses? It seems ridiculous that the objects we need with us all the time are also the ones that seem to go wandering most often. The reason is straightforward: we lose these objects because we carry them around with us. Objects that we only use in one place, like our toothbrush, seldom get lost at all.

There is, in fact, a special part of our brain dedicated specifically to remembering the location of things. It’s called the hippocampus, and it was crucial for our ancestors who needed to know where a watering hole was, or the areas where predators might pounce.

In order to learn more about our hippocampi, researchers studied the brains of London taxi drivers, as they are required to commit the city’s street plan to memory. The tests revealed that the hippocampi of the drivers were larger than hippocampi in other people of similar education and age. These larger hippocampi were attributed to the need to recall many locations in detail.

However, the hippocampus can only provide us with information about objects whose location doesn’t change. This isn’t a problem for a taxi driver trying to remember how to get to a particular building, but is a constant problem for us when we try to remember where our frustratingly mobile keys are.

To ensure that you don’t always have to seek out these essential items, simply find a designated place for them. A special bowl next to the door for your keys always does the trick!

If you can’t set aside a certain place for an object, then it may also help to purchase duplicates. For example, if you need reading glasses, having a single location for them might prove frustrating as you may need them in different places. Instead, you could purchase a pair for your bedroom for nighttime reading, while another pair remains at work.

4. Give your brain a break – move your organizational processes outside your head.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the different ideas and thoughts floating around inside your head? The best way to ensure you can keep track of them is to organize them outside your head.

A time-tested trick to unburden your brain is to write things down. Good old-fashioned flash cards are an easy and effective way to record and organize ideas as soon as you think of them.

For example, you might be on the bus and suddenly remember that you still have to buy a birthday present for your aunt. Don’t stress, just write it down and you’ll no longer have the burden of trying to remember it all day!
On the other hand, if you think of something that you could do right away – such as calling your aunt to say happy birthday – then don’t think twice, do it immediately. Think of it in terms of the two-minute rule: if the task takes longer than two minutes to complete, then write it down. Otherwise, do it straight away.

Another effective approach is to organize your written thoughts into categories. This mirrors the way our brains are constantly categorizing new stimuli and helps simplify our thinking, thus saving time and increasing our attention capacity.

For example, if we see a flying object with feathers, our brain recognizes it as part of the category “bird.” Though this bird might be a hawk or an eagle, it’s easier to place it in this broader category rather than identify it specifically.
The same goes for our flash cards – collect them together and sort them into different groups according to the topics they relate to. These could be categories such as “Personal Life,” “Work” or “Kids.”

This way you’ll be able to keep your thoughts and ideas organized and accessible.

5. Set aside time to refuel so you can increase your productivity later

Everyone knows that you tend to be far more productive after a good night’s sleep. And yet, we’re often tempted to skip a few hours of kip in order to work just a little bit more.

This, however, is a mistake. Our brain works incredibly hard while we sleep, processing new information from the day and integrating it into our existing knowledge. Memories, problems and ideas often appear in our dreams and we may find ourselves better positioned to solve a problem after “sleeping on it.”

This phenomenon is backed up by studies. Researchers found that students attempting to solve a problem performed better following a night of sleep than they did working on it for the same length of waking time.

Ultimately, you’re twice as likely to solve a problem after you’ve slept on it. This shows that sleep is essential, and attempting to work when you’re tired is counterproductive.

Sleep isn’t the only way that we can refuel our minds. Many companies have discovered the benefits of decreasing employee work time and providing facilities and opportunities for rest.

For example, at Microsoft, employees are welcome to use the in-house spa to relax and recharge. This is not only great for employees, but, as studies have shown that productivity increases when working hours drop, the use of downtime in facilities such as these may well be a driving force behind increased productivity.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young has also improved worker performance by allowing additional vacation time. In fact, for every additional ten vacation hours taken by employees, the employees’ performance rating increased by eight percent.

6. We can’t know the answer to every question, but we can know where and how to find it!

Today, we lead very different lives to our grandparents. One of the greatest changes is the way we can easily access vast amounts of information in no time at all. Googling something takes less than a minute! Nevertheless, there’s one important question we should continually ask ourselves: Is this information reliable?

Many of us have used Wikipedia before. The information it can provide us on a wide range of topics is hugely helpful, but is subject to a major drawback. Anyone is able to edit the information on a Wikipedia page, so we can never immediately be sure whether it is reliable. This means we should take the time to verify the information.

In order to evaluate whether a website is a valuable source or not, we can first investigate whether any reliable websites, such as established news services or government websites link to the website. If so, the site itself is likely to be reliable, and information can also be verified by cross-checking it with the content on several other websites.

However, not every problem can be solved by checking online. In complex dilemmas, particularly in the workplace, you’ll need to think for yourself in order to find solutions. Inventive and innovative thinking is something you just can’t google for! In such cases, the ability to reason, estimate and develop hypothetical assumptions is vital. 

For example, in Google’s own job interviews, potential candidates are confronted with a question that has no correct answer. Here’s one for you to try on for size: “How much does the Empire State Building weigh?” Google was interested in whether the candidate could use their logical skills to work through a problem on their own, for example, by calculating the approximate size and weight of the concrete used for the building.

Daniel Levitin on 3 big ideas: multitasking, brain extenders and decision making in the age of information overload in Talks at Google


Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World? The book UnSelfie by Dr. Michele Borba offers a 9-step program to help parents cultivate empathy in children, from birth to young adulthood—and explains why developing a healthy sense of empathy is a key predictor of which kids will thrive and succeed in the future. Radka Dohnalová, ATAIRU Founder and Managing Partner reviewed this book in context of topics Future of Education and Leadership.

Children today live in a self-absorbed culture that makes them ill-equipped to understand the emotions of others. When researching the key skills we will need for the future, empathy plays a critical role, not just for children but also in leadership. I loved this book because it shows how parents and teachers can help children learn to feel greater empathy by teaching them about emotions and showing them how their actions affect others. It can be also a great spurce of inspiration for leadership. Here are some of the key thoughts.
Evidence shows that empathy is decreasing among young people, while narcissism is on the rise.
Did you know that “selfie” was voted word of the year in 2014 by Oxford Dictionaries? The decision was made following a 17,000 percent increase in the word’s usage over the previous year.
This obsession with photos of ourselves is symptomatic of an all-about-me society that’s ruled by ego, in which everybody wants to be the center of attention. Psychologists are even in agreement that empathy is on the decline, while narcissism among young adults is steadily rising.
Just take psychologist Sarah Konrath, whose University of Michigan, Ann Arbor team considered 72 behavioral studies among college students over the last three decades. Their results, which were published in Personality and Sociology Review, paint a disturbing picture.
They found that students today are 40 percent less empathetic than their predecessors were 30 years ago. In addition, rates of narcissistic behavior, including selfishness, an inflated sense of self-importance and a tremendous need for admiration, have soared by a whopping 58 percent!
Or consider a Gallup poll that found that while only 12 percent of teenagers in the 1950s agreed with the statement “I am very important,” that figure has hovered around 80 percent since the late 1980s.
The drop in empathy is also made abundantly clear by the rise in bullying among school children. After all, children who bully others do so by dehumanizing their victims and failing to see life from their perspective, which is why soaring rates of bullying are a strong indicator of decreasing empathy.
And although children have always been mean to one another, recent studies have found that bullying has reached an all-time high in recent years. One study showed a 52-percent increase over a mere four years. Another study determined that children as young as three years old were engaging in bullying behavior.
But what’s perhaps most disturbing is that one out of every five middle schoolers reports considering suicide because of peer cruelty.
We can thus see that children today are much more self-absorbed than previous generations were at the same age – but that doesn’t mean that they have to stay this way.
Adults can help kids develop emotional literacy.
Just as they’re not born being able to change their own diapers, kids don’t come out of the womb knowing how to understand and act with empathy. Even especially bright kids need years of experience before they can read body language and facial cues with fluency.
That being said, you can coach your children through this process.
First, you can use face-to-face contact to teach kids to read emotional signals. This is crucial, since children and teens are especially prone to misreading such gestures, which causes them – and, potentially, those around them – lots of unnecessary suffering. To lend them a hand, pay special attention to your own body language and be ready to explain things like, “don’t worry, I’m not angry. I’m just tired. If I rub my eyes you’ll know I’m tired.” You can also do some casual people watching with your child. During a trip to the mall, you might ask, “who looks angry, tired or bored?”
Second, you can use books and films to teach kids about emotions. To do so, you might watch a few minutes of a TV soap opera together with the sound on mute and make a game of guessing how the actors feel. This kind of exercise is a useful way to teach children about body language. Books are also great for this. If the main character in a story expresses an emotion, ask your children, “how can we tell he’s scared?” or “have you ever felt like that?” Doing so will give your kids an opportunity to understand an emotion from the inside out. And finally, give your kids an emotional vocabulary. After all, you can’t talk about something without the appropriate language to express it, and that’s especially the case when it comes to emotions. So, expose your children to words like “eager,” “confident” or “dismayed” that go beyond the simple emotions of “happy” and “sad.” To make sure you’re using emotional words when speaking with your children, you can make a point of talking about your own feelings. Be especially sure to use lots of emotional words when playing with boys, as they tend to hear less of this language in their daily lives.

source: Twitter @micheleborba

Teach kids empathy by asking them to walk in another person’s shoes.
What do you need to do to make sure your child thrives? Well, it’s essential for her to be able to advocate for her own interests – but that’s not enough.
To be happy and successful, kids also need empathy. In fact, children who understand the perspectives of others have more friends and stronger, closer relationships than self-absorbed children. Not only that, but empathetic children are happier, better adjusted and more likely to resolve conflicts or stand up for victims.
Such positive traits are known as the Empathy Advantage and they’re linked to more favorable life outcomes, including better job prospects, higher salaries and even greater educational attainment.
Luckily, any child can develop the Empathy Advantage through a few careful exercises, and the first of these is to reverse sides in an argument.
Say your two children come running to you, each begging for you to take their side in a disagreement. Instead of doing so, ask each child what he or she thinks the other child will say about the situation. By grappling with this question, both children will learn to see the situation through the other child’s eyes.
Another way you can develop your children’s empathy is through the use of props and role play. This kind of strategy will help your child step outside of her own world and into that of another. For instance, you can put on a tiara, an army boot or a sari, then ask your child who they think the wearer of these objects is and what they think about life. What are that person’s fears, hopes and dreams?

This is also a good approach if your child bullies someone. While young children might not understand questions like “how would you like it if Bobby did that to you?”, props can help them empathize. So, if you instead say “here’s Bobby’s hat. You be Bobby and I’ll be you,” and then act out a scene in which you’re mean to Bobby, most children will come away from the experience understanding how painful it is to be bullied.

BOOK REVIEW: Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education


Are you thinking about the future of education and what are the 8 competencies we should be teaching our children?

I have just read a book Creative Schools by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica and here are the 6 key thoughts:



  1. Formal education is shaped by the needs of industry.

Do you ever wonder how modern schools were first developed? Well, they certainly didn’t originate as a means to foster the unique personality, creativity and talents of individual students. Rather, conventional education was a result of the need to deliver highly standardized knowledge to young people so they could work in factories.
Modern schools arose over the course of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Before this period in history, only the privileged received any formal education. But this changed as new industries emerged, requiring workers to have some basic skills like the ability to read, do simple math and understand technical information.

So, Western governments began organizing mass education with one main purpose – to produce useful labor for factories. And, since industrial production relies on conformity, compliance and linear processes, education was based on these needs too. In fact, schools themselves were designed more or less like factories.

Jump forward to the present day and this tradition is alive and well with the standards movement, which endeavors to make the nation’s workforce internationally competitive by holding education to firm guidelines and standards. At the same time, STEM or science, technology, engineering and math subjects are given preference, regardless of a student’s strengths and interests.

from cover of the book Creative Schools

But where did the standards movement originate?

It had already begun in the 1980s, but gained prominence in the year 2000, when several Western countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany performed poorly in the first PISA or Program for International Student Assessment test.

Shocked by their poor results, the countries searched for ways to enhance the performance of their students. But, instead of catering to the needs of individual students, they once again planned education like an efficient factory, setting out exactly what students of a particular grade should learn and how they should learn it – all the while assessing their progress through testing.

This meant that by ninth grade, for example, all students might need to know basic algebra and be made to prove their ability by taking a nationwide test.


  1. An overly standardized education is highly problematic.

If you gave a brand new, unknown digital device to several different friends, you’d find that each of them approached the object a little differently. Some of them would start by reading the manual, while others would search the internet for information and still others would simply turn it on and play with it. The point is, as much as our schools might think otherwise, humans can’t be standardized – and education shouldn’t be either.

After all, from this little thought experiment it’s clear that your friends don’t learn the same way, and neither do schoolchildren. Yet, schools treat them as if they do. For instance, they are all expected to learn by sitting in class and listening to teachers explain things, even though this may not fit their personal learning styles.
Not just that, but not all students learn at the same level in all subjects at the same age. Some first graders might be advanced in math, but still struggle with reading, while others are exactly the opposite. Nonetheless, all these students are grouped by their age, not their skill levels.

Given this reality, it’s not surprising that the standards movement has failed to improve educational outcomes. After all, an education based almost entirely on exercises and tests will destroy a student’s creativity and lead them to disengage. And disengaged students do not learn well.

In 2012, 17 percent of US high school graduates couldn’t read or write fluently, and 21 percent of everyone between 18 and 24 couldn’t even point out the Pacific Ocean on a map!

But beyond that, students with skills outside of the prescribed academic areas, like those who are great with their hands or are superb singers, might also become discouraged by the incessant assessments demanded by the standards movement.

As a result, they may end up jobless, in prison or alienated from society. Worse still, students from underprivileged backgrounds are even more likely to fail in the modern education system. And even if they do succeed, these days a college degree is no guarantee of a job.

So, clearly, something has got to change.


  1. Organic farming is based on four principles that easily apply to education.

It’s easy to think about our education system as a factory and just as easy to see it as a factory pig farm – all about outputs. As long as the pigs grow fast enough, factory farmers don’t care if the animals are sick or the farm is harming the environment.

And while today’s students aren’t being fattened up, mass education is all about yields. It’s overly focused on test results and the number of graduates produced.

We already saw how this system is failing but is there a better one?

Well, maybe we can get some inspiration from organic farming, which is based on four principles: Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care.
For instance, a system based on health, ecology, fairness and care is designed to improve the lives of everyone involved, including the pigs, workers and consumers. But it’s also based on ecological systems and works in harmony with them. That means plants are grown using natural biological cycles.

And, since organic farming is founded on fairness and care, it strives to provide good living conditions for both present and future generations.

When applied to education, these principles work seamlessly. That’s because, while conventional schools focus primarily on achievements, whether they be in academics or sports, organic schools care about the development of the whole student into a physically, emotionally and intellectually healthy person.

But that’s not all – organic education also relies on the ecological system of the school community to foster every student’s abilities. Grange Primary School in Nottingham is run like a town by its students. It has a council, a newspaper and even a food market. As students work at the school and interact with one another, they learn a wide range of abilities from social skills to arithmetic.

Furthermore, organic education is fair because it appreciates all students, not just those with academic gifts. And finally, teachers and mentors treat students compassionately to provide the best conditions for their development. In other words, they treat them with care.

But what if you’re a teacher at a school that’s not yet so creatively organic? What can every teacher do to ensure their students learn while remaining curious and growing their creativity?

from cover of the book Creative Schools


  1. Children are natural learners and a teacher’s role is to guide them.

If you walked into an average classroom, you’d see students who are bored silly by just about everything that’s presented to them. While this sight might seem normal, it shouldn’t be. After all, kids are natural born learners.
Babies are so eager to explore the world that they grab any new thing they can reach. They also soak up language, often becoming fluent by the time they’re two or three.

And this type of hunger for learning goes well beyond childhood. This was illustrated by Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in 1999, when he installed a computer in the wall of an Indian slum and observed children’s reactions to it. The interface was only displayed in English, which none of them knew, but within just a few hours the kids figured out how to use the console to play games and record music.

So, kids are inherently curious and it’s up to teachers to foster this curiosity, not kill it. Here it helps to think of the teacher as a gardener. He can’t force the children to develop, but he can nurture their natural inclination toward growth.

Here’s how. First, he should get the students to engage by leveraging their natural curiosity, creativity and eagerness to master new skills. One way a teacher can do this is by addressing students’ interests. For example, someone who’s obsessed with baseball will appreciate physics if she can use it to calculate the best way to hit a curveball.

But that’s not all that matters. A teacher’s expectations and relationships with the students are also key. That’s because a student will work much harder if her beloved teacher expects her to.

Beyond that, great teachers also understand that different students require different kinds of teaching methods. For example, a basketball coach might realize that one student needs her to demonstrate a shot rather than just describe it.

And finally, teachers need to empower their students to believe in themselves by showing them that they can deal with difficult and uncertain situations as long as they remain calm, confident and creative.

  1. Schools should give students eight core competencies, starting with curiosity, creativity and criticism.

When approaching education, it’s important for us to consider what exactly we want our kids to learn. Up until now, we’ve answered this question with a never-ending list of subjects from French to algebra. But to guide students in later life, we need to teach them competencies, not subjects.

That’s because the future is uncertain and there’s no way to know if the subjects we teach students today will help them in the real world tomorrow. So, a better strategy is to teach skills that will enable them to learn what they need while dealing with whatever social or economic situations they might encounter.

This is simple and just requires schools to teach students eight core competencies, also known as the eight Cs. The first is curiosity, which we already know kids have a lot of. Here the school’s job is to develop the natural inquisitiveness of children by encouraging them to pay attention to the world and ask questions about what they find.
It’s also necessary for schools to foster creativity, or the ability to form new ideas and put them into practice. After all, from the invention of written language to the rise of the internet, creativity has been central to all cultural progress. And, going forward, it’s only going to become more important when the students of today face ever more complex problems that they’ll only be able to solve creatively.

The third competency relates to the ubiquitous information overload we face today, which demands the ability to discern facts from opinions and relevant information from irrelevant noise. So, it’s essential to teach students criticism, or the desire to question the data they observe and draw their own conclusions.


  1. The final five competencies help students become better team members and citizens.

We expect and deserve a great deal from our schools. So, how can we ensure we get it? Well, education serves four main functions.

First, it’s supposed to benefit students personally by helping them build on their individual talents. Second, it’s meant to boost the economy by generating a stream of innovative, well-qualified new workers. Third, it should help young people understand their culture and appreciate those of others. And finally, schools are also tasked with producing politically engaged and compassionate citizens.

But our students won’t be able to fulfill these functions without further competencies. So, here’s where the ability to communicate comes into play. After all, the ability to express oneself is key and it goes far beyond writing skills. It also includes the ability to speak clearly and confidently in public and convey information through things like art and music.
Beyond that, students also need the ability to collaborate, not simply compete. That’s why good schools have students work on team projects where they learn to organize, compromise and resolve conflicts as a group.

Another essential competency to teach students is compassion, or the ability to feel empathy for the feelings of others. That’s because an empathetic child won’t bully others since he knows how terrible it is to be bullied and wouldn’t want to feel that pain himself.

It’s also important to teach children composure through meditation and other mindfulness practices that help them connect with their feelings while developing inner balance.

And finally, while conventional schools might teach the theoretical aspects of politics, like how elections work, what’s really essential is to teach citizenship. Doing so will help students oppose injustice and use politics to benefit their communities. That’s exactly the idea at Grange Primary School, where the students run their own town council.

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