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Conveying the right type of information for a group so that they can make accurate decisions can be challenging. Barbara Tversky, Professor Emerita of Psychology at Stanford University and Professor of Psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University, alongside our take-over hosts, Barton Friedland and Jarno Kartela, uncover how people think about the physical and digital spaces they inhabit and how those are used to think, to communicate, to create, and of course, to decide. If you are a business leader, wanting better tools for understanding context and meaning in your teams, this is the podcast for you.
- Using our hands and our bodies promotes thinking, for ourselves and when we explain things to other people. In a study in which we described the actions of complex machines to other people, we used gestures to describe the actions, and people understood the actions much more deeply.
- The very language we use to talk about ideas is the language of action (eg fallen into a depression), and that is another way of showing how embodied our thinking is, that those action words are almost irreplaceable when talking about abstract concepts and emotions.
- If people go into a situation with a preconception or an assumption, even if there is no gain from that assumption, they will actively resist the new information that may change their mind about their assumption. There is this tendency to see information that supports- to seek out information that supports your point of view and to reject, dismiss, or not even find information that doesn't.
- There are so many times when we have to act against instinct. I mean, there are times when we're angry and would like to lash out or hit out and we stop ourselves and we learn to stop ourselves. By being aware of biases, we can have counter-training and we can say, I need to listen.
- Respect goes a great deal, and honoring and recognizing someone else's point of view, not getting emotionally involved, all of these things work on human disputes, and the same techniques that seem to work for couples or parents and children getting along, seem to work for business teams, may work for politicians and countries.
- One of the tools is perspective taking, is trying very hard to see and see somebody else's perspective. As you point out, you have to make your perspective comprehensible to somebody who doesn't have that. Even when there's no dispute, you still have that set of issues of understanding what's important to another group, what they need, what they can do without.
- With AI-augmented, we collect both qualitative and quantitative data about people's perspectives and their assumptions. We build them into models that are parametrics so that the stakeholders can adjust the dial on the simulation and they can see how their ideas might play out. Then the whole point of it is so that the people can have conversations.
- Language, like counting words, language can have an effect on how you think about space and how you use special concepts.
- Distinguishing spatial and visual is something a number of people have problems with. Spatial is whatever you don't need vision for in the visual-spatial because spatial is fed by many modalities, not just vision. Blind children gesture. They've never seen gesture. They don't know that other people are seeing it and using it.
- People with high spatial are able to tolerate more complexity both of the amount of information and the relations, which may or may not be causal among them, and people with low spatial find it more difficult.
[00:00:00] Barton Friedland: Welcome to Pragmatism in Practice, a podcast from ThoughtWorks where we share stories of practical approaches to becoming a modern digital business. I'm Barton Friedland Principal Advisory Consultant in Berlin, Germany, and I'm here with--
[00:00:15] Jarno Kartela: Jarno, the Global Head of AI advisory from sunny Helsinki.
[00:00:19] Barton: We are your hosts for a special podcast takeover, entitled Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. In this series, we're pleased to bring on special guests to discuss an area of increasing burden with senior management, decisions. Let's get started.
Barbara Tversky is an emerita professor of psychology at Stanford University and a professor of psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University. She is a past president of the Association for Psychological Science. She has published over 200 scholarly articles about memory, spatial thinking, design and creativity. According to Google Scholar, her publications have been cited more than 31,000 times.
Her overall goals have been several. First to uncover how people think about the spaces they inhabit and the actions they perform, then to understand the spaces people create; gestures, environments, maps, sketches, diagrams, charts, graphs, comics, even words, and how they use those spaces to think, to communicate and to create and of course, to decide. Her 2019 book Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought overviews some of that work. Welcome, Barbara.
[00:02:31] Barbara Tversky: Thank you. Thank you for that kind introduction.
[00:02:35] Barton: It's such a pleasure to be speaking with you once again. I think I've known about your work for some time. I know a little bit about some of the concepts but I think many of our readers, while they might know what a cognitive scientist might do, what is embodied cognition?
[00:02:54] Barbara: Embodied cognition, like many useful terms, has different meanings for different people and different researchers. It's backed by different findings so I didn't want to get entangled into the philosophical discussions of what exactly embodied cognition is to different researchers. I avoided the term that might have been a mistake. What I mean is, in part, using the body to think, and it's evident in research we've done.
We put people alone in a room, learning complicated information, complex environments, how something operates, things that are hard for students to learn. They study them hard. They're going to be tested and many of them spontaneously gesture what they're reading and their hands make models of what they're reading. For environments, they're drawing lines and putting dots for places and lines for paths between them. They're using their body, especially their hands to represent this information.
When you look at it, you get the feeling that they're translating the words into thought that the words are hard. Understanding how those systems work just through language is difficult. The body constructs a representation and abstract representation, diagrammatic of what they're reading, and when they do this, they perform better on tests. If we tell them to sit on their hands, their performance goes down.
This is a bit of a mystery, why using our hands and our bodies promotes thinking. It doesn't just do it for ourselves, which is pretty surprising, it works when we explain things to other people. We did a study in which we describe the actions of complex machines to other people. We used gestures to describe the actions, people understood the actions much more deeply than when they just saw gestures indicating the structure.
[00:06:07] Jarno: Immediately when you said that, I realized that whenever I tried to explain a complex- like something like reinforcement learning within machine learning, I specifically use my hands to describe how the system works. I've never thought that that is actually what's happening behind the scenes, but that is what I do.
[00:06:31] Barton: I think as I was listening, what I heard, Barbara, was that we've historically been taught that the brain is the center of thinking, but the evidence that you are citing suggests that it's not just the brain, it's a system of activities that add to thinking, that shape thinking, that alter thinking. Is that--?
[00:06:58] Barbara: Absolutely. Explaining those gestures you're making are helping you think and helping your students. What's interesting is those actions are representational like language. They're not actual actions on objects. They're representing actions on ideas.
There's no object there. I'm gesturing on ideas that are invisible, not on actual objects, but those gestures are using the actions that we use on objects. They're truncating them, they're abstracting them so we can raise ideas, we can put them together, tear them apart. Those are all actions that we might perform on objects. It's the language that we use on objects, but we use that language to talk about ideas. There almost isn't any other way of talking about ideas except to use the language of actions.
That's another way that we're showing that cognition is embodied, that the very language we use to talk about ideas and many other things, we say someone's on the top of the heap, or has fallen into a depression, the language that we use to talk about many things is the language of action, and that is another way, again, of showing how embodied our thinking is, that those action words are almost irreplaceable when talking about abstract concepts and emotions.
[00:09:04] Barton: Again, for our listeners, I think what's interesting is in the book, you talk about experiments where basketball players versus people who are not basketball players are asked to predict, I think with a photograph, someone or perhaps seeing a video of someone shooting a basket and the basketball players are better able to predict the outcome. The way you explain it in the book is that they're actually processing that visual through their own memory of their bodily movements, how they would do the shot. They're interpreting it through their own learned physical experience.
[00:09:46] Barbara: That has to do with, what's been called the mirror neuron system, that when we see actions, our body enacts them, a miniature of them. I go to dance performances and I like to stand because I can't help but wiggle and I'm mirroring the actions of the people as-- That comes out in my wiggling. Even if I'm not allowed to wiggle, there are experiments showing that my muscles are activated when I'm watching actions.
They're the muscles that are being used by the dancers or whatever it is you're watching. If you are experienced in the dance that you're watching, you get much more of what's called motor resonance and echoing by your motor system. People who know Capoeira are more responsive to videos of Capoeira and people who know ballet are more responsive to videos of ballet.
[00:11:00] Barton: This speaks to the concept of context that people who understand the nuance of context because of their own direct experience are better able to perceive and interpret it. All of this is about my lived bodily experience and it's one-to-one mapping with my- what I'm sensing. When you were talking about abstract thought though a moment ago, it sounds that's a little bit different. It diverges a little bit. While we might use the same models, the same spatial models, the same understandings of space and being a body in space, we're actually applying it to a different level of thought. Could you talk about that a little bit?
[00:11:37] Barbara: Absolutely. Then that goes back to the idea that these gestures are representing something else. They aren't the actual actions, they're representing more abstract actions. Of course, language does that too. It represents things that aren't there, concepts that you can't see, but the advantage of gestures is the mapping is more direct. If I say that something's rising, my gestures are rising and the word rising has no direct way of communicating that information.
The words for it are different in different languages, but something like, rising that inflation is rising, that those gestures can be understood almost universally.
[00:13:56] Barton: Is it okay if I take that a little bit further into the area of decision-making? You say something really interesting in the book that I believe really brings into the realm of something that all humans do. All humans are making decisions about what they eat, what they wear every day and you say in the book, I'm going to quote you. You say, "Rapid social judgments of competence or dominance. The judgments of these traits turn out to be related from faces, appear to have broad consequences on our lives. They correlate with sentencing decisions, hiring decisions, salary, and military rank. Our brains seem to be wired to make these evaluations automatically as we casually go about our business without an explicit intention to judge."
[00:14:54] Barbara: Yes, it's scary. It really is scary. To try to make that more comprehensible, and I mean it is kind of bias, but there are certain biases that are rapid processing that our lives depend on. If we go back to being babies, babies need to learn to discern objects from their backgrounds. That's a hard visual task. Computer science can do it but it took a long time and a lot of computing power in order to distinguish objects from their background. It's something that our visual systems do quite quickly, but they have to be trained.
Then once we figured out that this is an object, it has coherence, the whole thing moves together, not part by part, then we have to learn to identify them. Again, for babies, this is critical, they need to identify their caretakers, this takes many months. Once they do, they suddenly are afraid, or they might be afraid of people who are strangers. This makes sense. The baby is dependent on their caretakers, they don't know, can't know what strangers might do. The brain has prepared babies to be biased toward their caretakers, toward friends, toward known faces. Again, this makes sense, and the baby has to do that quickly. The baby might scream if a stranger is picking them up, but the baby needs that. The baby only can cry and needs to be able to cry out if there is danger.
You can see where I'm going. These decisions have to be made rapidly. If we waited for the baby to identify this as a moving object, it's going to hit me, I better duck, or this is a stranger, he's starting to do something to me, the baby has to just-- The child, we grown-ups have to discern those quickly. Is it dangerous? Is someone throwing me a ball so I could catch it or are they trying to hit me on the head? I need to know that quickly to plan my own actions.
The brain learns and has to learn. It isn't built in completely, what actions are likely to be dangerous, what actions are likely to be safe and welcoming, what people are likely to be helpful, and which are likely to be harmful, and have a high threshold there. Which objects are moving toward me and which are stationary, so I have to avoid them?
[00:18:07] Barton: That gives us a really good context for where these capabilities emerge from, or where these ways of interacting with the world emerge from. The context in the book that you're presenting this is a series of experiments where people are making judgments about political candidates. I think you say later, "Remember that these are studies on frozen faces. In real life, we can hope to have more information about people than a single facial expression for important decisions, and other information can counter the biased judgments. However, we must be wary and remember the facts."
There was a separate place in the book where you said that if people go into a situation with a preconception or an assumption, even if there is no gain to come out of that assumption, they will actively resist the new information that may change their mind about their assumption. Could you talk about that? Because I think that obviously has an impact on the way people make decisions whether they realize it or not.
If we have assumptions about something, like I believe that using electric vehicles is the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint, I may actively resist information that helps me understand that perhaps eating a vegetarian diet may actually be more effective.
[00:21:09] Barbara: They're nuances and the people do resist nuances. We work so hard at getting opinions that we don't want to give them up. There is this tendency to see information that supports- to seek out information that supports your point of view and to reject, dismiss, or not even find information that doesn't.
[00:21:38] Barton: Confirmation bias.
[00:21:39] Barbara: Yes. That goes way back. Fortunately for all of these tendencies, and again, they do have survival value, we can't keep learning new information and finding nuanced views. Eventually, we have to come to a decision. Is it this way or that way? Do we befriend this person or not? We have to come to decisions. Being aware I think of biases goes part way. You catch yourself.
There are so many times when we have to act against instinct. I mean, there are times when we're angry and would like to lash out or hit out and we stop ourselves and we learn to stop ourselves. A similar thing can happen with these other kinds of biases. That being aware, we can have counter training and we can say, I need to listen. Even experience will teach us that when we come up with a climate denial that we can't dismiss them, they might be a friend or a relative and we have to learn to speak. We should find ways of having a respectful discussion.
Respect goes a great deal and honoring someone else's point of view, recognizing somebody else's point of view, not getting emotionally involved, all of these things work on human disputes when we're angry at a friend or a partner or a child and when we have political arguments. We can have more nuanced and I think people who are forced to make joint decisions come to realize that we're working as a team. We have to keep working at it as a team. We have to keep good relations. It doesn't always happen. The wars and divorces and terrible consequences to these things but I think there is hope and the same techniques that seem to work for couples or parents and children getting along, seem to work for business teams, may work for politicians and countries,
[00:24:30] Barton: Yes, absolutely.
[00:24:31] Jarno: Because we're touching on one of our main topics, how do you work as a team to come up with decisions in a corporate environment? One of the hardest problems is how do we convey the right type of information for a group so that we can make accurate decisions and have a discussion around it. Oftentimes the tools are limited to visualization and bar charts and so on. I'm just thinking there has to be more, like we have to have better tools for understanding context and understanding meaning.
[00:25:32] Barbara: No, I think that's right. One of the tools is perspective taking, is trying very hard to see and see somebody else's perspective. As you point out, you have to make your perspective comprehensible to somebody who doesn't have that. You even have that on say architectural teams where different groups are doing different things and come from different backgrounds and they have different vocabulary.
Even when there's no dispute, you still have that set of issues of understanding what's important to another group, what they need, what they can do without. A mutual friend of Barton and mine, Bob Horne, developed a very nice system. He takes a huge whiteboard, and if there are two sides, he tries to diagram each side and that helps. What are the important issues? What are the relations?
Then those end up being boxes or dots and the relations among those issues, which tend to be lines. Then you can see each side and you have a visual representation that's shared, that we've both contributed. It's joint and we can manipulate it. We can stand up and say, "Yes, if I move this there, then that'll help you. If you--" and so forth. That way of schematizing, abstracting the different points of view, putting them in a space so everybody can see.
[00:27:18] Barton: It's so funny because when I met Jarno, Jarno does not come from the same background as I, but he had this very similar idea that AI is not something that should give us the answer and predict our future, but rather show us perspectives and foster human communication. The approach that we've been taking is very much along the lines of what Bob would've wanted us to do anyway.
We call it AI-augmented. We collect both qualitative and quantitative data about people's perspectives and their assumptions. We build them into models that are parametrics so that the stakeholders can adjust the dial on the simulation and they can see how their ideas might play out. Then the whole point of it is so that the people can have conversations.
[00:28:45] Barbara: T. There's a group in Denmark. I'm a bit of a fan of tangible stuff, not [crosstalk]
[00:28:57] Barton: Yes.
[00:28:59] Barbara: He has developed a tool, a toy, I have it in the next room, that's just wonderful. That allows you to make these networks in 3D.
[00:29:12] Barton: Wow.
[00:29:13] Barbara: Both groups can do it and make them, and they're very easy and you can tag them with meaning and change the tags. It's all very flexible, much easier than on a screen. It's bigger. I got very excited about it.
[00:29:55] Barton: I think this answers part of the question- how can we use spatial thinking? What we started with was this notion of embodied cognition. Spatial thinking is not just thinking about space. Spatial thinking is also when we gesture, we use space to think. If we can make something in a tangible object that we can interact with, the idea is we could stimulate our thinking in this way that you describe where we're not sitting on our hands, but we actually are able to engage our thinking more fully.
[00:30:27] Barbara: Absolutely. We're making that spider web and manipulating it and seeing it. We're using our whole body. That spider web is abstract. It's, again, representing ideas and relations among ideas and it's abstract, but you point to gesture too. I think, for one, I want to backtrack just one sec there. One of the problems with Zoom is you get faces, but you don't get this shared workspace. Squeezing the shared workspace into a screen with the faces is very hard.
We've done a fair amount of research and others have done it on when people work over these diagrams or maps that they're sharing. They're not looking at each other's faces. They're looking at the gestures on the diagrams, the communication is there but I think in a face-to-face meeting, we have in addition faces and gestures. If you are in a large meeting, who gets the floor next? That depends on who's being looked at. The person most looked at is most likely to get the floor next.
[00:31:50] Barton: How interesting.
[00:31:52] Barbara: People look at men, not at women. This is again a kind of bias. Male voices are lower. They attract attention more than high-pitched female voices are dismissed as children because children have high-pitch, and we dismiss children. Experienced mothers know that to get the attention of a child, you lower your voice. Make sure the kid gets it. Even if those implicit things that we're responding to, and again, there's probably almost biological reasons. I've just illustrated, children have high voices. They aren't important in big decisions, or we think they aren't. These biases toward men and even the looking, men are bigger.
[00:32:59] Barton: I almost feel like, as you were saying this, what crossed my mind was the thought, we have to remember that we are human. There's a lot of theory that emerged in the 20th century that very much idolized or set the idea that human beings were able to make these rational decisions as if we were machines. I almost feel like part of the advice or part of the message that you are trying to convey to your readers is that we really must take into account that we're human with all the different colors of being human in our thinking process and not think that it's perfect.
[00:33:41] Barbara: Being human, we are multipurpose machines. if we're machines and we're constantly juggling all kinds of things. It might be hot in the room and you're worried about that or cold in the room and you like someone or don't. There are emotional issues and there are intellectual issues, there are personal issues. You get a phone call that- it has happened to me shortly before I was going to teach that your son who is 11, has just smashed- in his bicycle, smashed into a car. This was not the mood that I wanted. He was fine, but it was very difficult to teach for the next two hours.
Those were living while we're doing all of these other things and they're thrust on us and we're responding to them. We need to have mechanisms to respond to those life situations and the work situations and the personal and all at once. We're constantly torn but yes, we are certainly human and we do develop ways of calming ourselves, ignoring certain things. They don't always work, but we can work on them and they work better.
[00:35:08] Barton: Is it okay if I ask you another question about another bias that you wrote about in the book?
[00:35:12] Barbara: Sure.
[00:35:13] Barton: You talked about orderings and I thought I did not know this, but I recognized it in myself. You said that perhaps one of the most important feature of orderings and this relates to categorization in the mind is that sensitivity is greater at the low end of the continuum than at the high end of the continuum. For numbers, we are more sensitive to the difference between one and two than the difference between 81 and 82. Even highly educated people who make decisions about large sums of money show this bias. Formal numbers do not. The difference between one and two and 81 and 82 is always the same, one.
[00:36:00] Barbara: It holds for almost any dimension. In near darkness, we're very sensitive to small amounts of light. When in bright sunshine, it takes a huge amount of light to make us wince. It's a general phenomenon. In light and sound, you can see it in the number of neurons firing. The increase in neurons firing from very low levels of light to slightly more is much bigger than the increase in neurons in bright sunshine.
That's another if you want to call it bias that the sensitivity is built into the neurons that are sensing this external information. It's probably a different phenomenon on numbers and further evidence for that is that many languages and people don't have numbers. They can say one, two, many, and they can approximate. They're good at approximating differences between one large number and another.
Animals are quite good at approximal, this approximate number system, but the exact number system, counting, and looking at differences is a cultural artifact of extreme importance because it allows us to measure beyond our own bodies as measurement. It's a way of overcoming that bias to be more sensitive to changes in those low range than changes in the high range. Just having numbers is important in overcoming those biases. If you're running a big company, you should be paying attention to the numbers and not using your approximate system.
There are a group of languages that don't use left and right. They use some approximation of the cardinal directions. They don't really know the cardinal directions, but there are structures in their spaces, in their immediate spaces, they don't travel far, that are correlated with, say, the setting sun or it's agonal to it. They use some sort of environmental frame of reference to locate things in the environment. They don't say something's on the left or something's on the right.
In fact, if you show them a picture of a tree and a man next to it on one side, and then another picture of a tree with a man on the other side, they say it's the same. Again, it's surprising to us, that sort of thing, but because, or probably because in order to speak, they have to keep track of the space around them, they are more oriented in space. Then blindfold them and turn them around and ask them to point home they can.
It's a loaded experiment to some extent, but it does show that language, like counting words, language can have an effect on how you think about space and how you use special concepts. Again, that's surprising and interesting. I should add a footnote here. Left and right are confusing to everybody. Many people make errors of left and right. My husband, who was a paratrooper and one of their exercises was to get dropped in the desert at night and find their way home without a map.
He could do that except when he was wrong. He was very good at keeping oriented in space. If he said left or right, I knew it was random. I looked at the way he pointed. That mapping of left and right to where you point in the environment is direct. The words are indirect. He was random on the words and the pointing was right on. Once again, this dissociation between the words and what the body knows is in many places, that mapping.
[00:43:44] Barton: It does lead to a different conception of space. I think this brings me back to some early work that you did, which was really the first thing I ever read of yours. It was the 1991 paper on spatial mental models, where you looked at the differences between people who read material and people who look at things and how those facial mental models are constructed. What you say at the end here, I know you may not have it all memorized, but I'll read back what I have here.
It says, "Franklin and I suggested what readers do when they read is they construct what we term a spacial framework or mental scaffolding for keeping track of objects located in the directions of the three-axis defined from our bodies. Our conceptions of space, unlike our perceptions of space, may give precedence to certain directions over others rendering them more accessible."
When it becomes abstract, though, and we use those same capabilities to organize, what will I do tomorrow? What's in front of me? What did I do yesterday? That's behind me. This is when it moves into this decision-making aspect that we're always doing and so we're always constructing these models in our minds, whether we realize we're doing it or not.
You talk about this distinction between-- Let me just see if I can find the right words here. Structural descriptions versus spatial models. You said, "Spatial mental models contain information about the parts of a scene and the relations between the parts, unlike images, which have been liken into internalized perceptions. Spatial mental models are perspective-free and allow the taking of many perspectives required in order to verify the test statements."
[00:46:35] Barbara: This was with respect to representations of environments. There we found we could write descriptions of a route walking through an environment, things on your left and right, or describe environments in terms of north, south, east, west. When people had learned these environments well, they could switch back and forth, but it did depend on being a two-dimensional array, not really three-dimensional, and having a good representation. As people are building representations, they aren't perspective-free.
It relates to work with companies, that someone who's, say, a manager of many different people, has a much broader representation of the company and how the group fits together and how individuals fit in groups than any employee who only sees the people around them and the manager and maybe the manager of the manager.
There is a difference in perspective there between managers who have a much broader one, maybe not as deep, but certainly broader than the perspective of an employee, and that that can create tensions and misunderstandings. You go to the Dean and you want more money for your department that you really think are worthy and necessary for your department, but the Dean is looking at 10 different departments with a small budget, and each of them is making that plea.
When the Dean tells you, "Yes, what you're saying is right, but political science needs and sociology is down four faculty," and so forth. It may help you understand the perspective of the manager, but that doesn't always happen. When there's huge distance between me and my Congress person and me and my president, it's much harder for me to see. I stole the advantages of perspective taking, and certainly to cooperate on projects you needed because you have to balance resources.
Other times, I think, if I'm blind to your perspective and just pushing mine and not being conciliatory towards yours, it might give me a better position at least in the short-term. I've asked a number of experts on that. What do they think about that? Can failing to take a perspective sometimes be advantageous? I think the difference there is really short-term, long-term. What's happening now in Europe with demand for fuel and going back on climate goals in order to satisfy short-term, long-term.
What you pointed out about the small differences, the distances from our perspective loom larger than the distances far from our perspective. Those short-term things ,we need cooling now and heating in the winter, and if we have to use coal, we'll do it. Those short-term become more important than the long-term, especially when we look at human suffering. Human suffering has to have priority, and too often, it doesn't.
[00:52:24] Barton: One of our colleagues wanted me to ask you a question but didn't quite fit in. He wanted to know what you thought about how the impact of office design, location, and remote work as a spatial construct impacts people with all the changes that we've been having due to COVID.
[00:52:45] Barbara: In remote work, the problem of everybody being a box and a screen, to some extent, it goes both ways. I found when I was teaching in a class of 20, and I was just 1 of 21 on the screen. It encouraged more of my students to speak up because it wasn't me in front of a classroom of 20, everybody looking at me and I looking at them. Instead, everybody is looking at each other and we're all equal. I had the feeling, I've no data, I had the feeling that there was something more democratic and inviting about that situation.
Now, my fellow teachers who we're teaching classes that wouldn't fit on a screen, so 30, 40, 120, it exaggerated the distance between the students and the teacher and made it more remote. Everything is a trade off. It did mean you don't see gestures. It was harder for me when I'm teaching a class, I can see who's paying attention and who isn't. If people turn off their screens, I can't see that. It has advantages and disadvantages.
My sons are both managers and I think for them bringing in new people was hard. It's inevitable and any teams move around, and bringing in new people was much harder in this situation. It's you need small talk. The fact that only discussions, one on ones begin with the weather or the baseball team, or in Europe, the soccer team, football team, that establishes a kind of trust. For neutral topics, you can both agree. You can have those backroom chats, and it establishes trust and liking.
Then it's easier to go into heavy meetings when you have those casual conversations. That gets into office design. You want to have situations where people are meeting randomly. There was old work in the '30s on mail rooms in apartment buildings or departments. They were where people met and chatted. You need that small talk, those personal relations. I think you need it for another reason, and that is related to these diversity issues.
You bond with people on different levels. You're working with these same people, you're establishing commonalities, and then the differences aren't as important. In general, those chatting casual conversations are about commonalities. Again, they become all the more important for establishing trust. Then after you've trusted this person, you find out they're voting for another party. What would normally raise your ire against them is now you like them so why are they feeling the way they're feeling?
[00:56:36] Barton: It creates empathy.
[00:56:38] Barbara: Yes. At least you understand that good people can feel differently. What I find with friends who agree with me, they dismiss all people from the other side thinking they can't be good, they didn't.
[00:57:55] Jarno: I do have one question, it's just a thing that's bothering me. We work a lot with strategic decision-making with large companies. What I find interesting is when you show executives a large amount of information, so all the possible KPIs that you can have to make a good decision, they find it overwhelming, that there's too much information to actually do something about it, to create action. If I take those same numbers and I draw it into a system, like this affects this, and this is how the business works.
[00:58:50] Barton: Causal relationships.
[00:58:51] Jarno: A causal relationship, but I don't add any information. I just put the same numbers, but I draw arrows. They will find it underwhelming. It's the same amount of information still, but they find-- This is weird to me that we are so geared towards a specific visual on the information that we're consuming that it feels overwhelming and underwhelming all at the same time.
[00:59:24] Barbara: Yes. Finding the sweet spot that works for everybody is hard.
[00:59:30] Jarno: Yes.
[00:59:31] Barbara: Even externalizing, I think you're pointing out, can't help in and of itself. It's how you structure the information. You might be oversimplifying for some people and under, but instead of having vast information showing the causal implications. Again, I'd have to look at the specifics. I've helped people design diagrams for many different purposes and dealing with exactly that problem. It interacts with people's spatial abilities.
People with high spatial are able to tolerate more complexity both of the amount of information and the relations, which may or may not be causal among them, and people with low spatial find it more difficult. I think finding that sweet spot, and of course, tools like Word or PowerPoint. They have so many more options than you can deal with and you tend to dismiss most of them and only deal with the ones who-- Same with going into a big discount department store. I'm overwhelmed just by the amount of visual clutter.
I only go to the aisles where I know I need stuff. It takes learning to do that, but otherwise, it's again like the baby learning what objects there are in the world again. I have to go through all of that information, it'll be tomorrow before I get out of the store. Balancing the amount and structure of information. I agree. It's complicated and you learn how to do it for the group you're doing it with.
Another way of doing that and what many of the interactive visuals do on a screen is you can zoom in and get more information and zoom out and get a more abstract view. Those visualizations are old. They've been around for a long time, exactly for that reason.
I'll have to add that this is spatial. Distinguishing spatial and visual is something a number of people have problems with. Spatial is what's up, what's down, what's central, what's peripheral, what's inside, what's outside. That's all spatial information that blind people can get. Spatial is whatever you don't need vision for in the visual-spatial. Blind people can have very good navigation abilities, and they can do high math, and they can understand diagrams because that information is spatial and spatial is fed by many modalities, not just vision.
[01:03:20] Barton: Tying back to gesture, again, for example. Even if you can't see, you can feel yourself gesturing in space.
[01:03:29] Barbara: Blind children gesture. They've never seen gesture. They don't know that other people are seeing it and using it, but it's good for them.
[01:03:40] Barton: Absolutely.
[01:03:42] Barbara: It is spatial. Right, exactly.
Barton:[01:04:45] I have one more question. In your book, number eight you have in the book is, "When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it in the world."
I think that might be good to close on, because sometimes I'm sure that some of our listeners feel overwhelmed with the number of decisions they need to make, the amount of time they have in the day, and maybe feeling like they can't make it all work. How does that law of cognition actually function? If I'm feeling overwhelmed, I would assume that's one of the conditions where thought begins to overflow the mind. What happens? What does it mean, "The mind puts it in the world"?
[01:11:57] Barbara: The gestures we make we put in for the world even when we don't know that thought is overwhelming, but it's helping us think. When we've got a long list of things we need to do, we make lists and prioritize and estimate the amount of time. Then we can see it and we can manipulate it.
It becomes like the argument diagram. I wouldn't call it argument, but the decision-making diagram that groups put up on a whiteboard and manipulate. Once we can externalize thought and see it in a more permanent way, because gestures go away, speech goes away. Although we do talk to ourselves, and we gesture to ourselves, but putting it out there on paper, or even a computer screen-
[01:12:59] Barton: Or a Simulation. Exactly.
[01:13:01] Barbara: -and manipulate it, I do think can-- I know it can help us to organize our thinking, prioritize our thinking, and relieve us a little bit. There's this and that, and this I can do. This I can put off. It can help us organize our days that we do get done what we think is important.
[01:13:28] Barton: Would it be fair to say that when thought overflows our mind, actually we can use the world as a place to create a feedback loop of our own thinking that goes beyond the confines of our tiny brains?
[01:13:43] Barbara: Absolutely. We can use it to restructure our thinking as a memory aid for the future, as a roadmap. If you give me instructions how to get from Oban to your house, I'm going to have to write it down, because I'm going to forget or if I have a map, I can look at it. When my memory is overwhelmed, I can't multiply two three-digit numbers in my head. I Need a piece of [crosstalk].
[01:14:17] Barton: I had the same problem. I can think in certain ways and not it others. Barbara, you have been kind. It's always a pleasure to speak to you. I always feel so inspired by hearing you speak up. Thank you for sharing some of the amazing work that you've done and knowledge that you've gathered to share with our readers.
[01:14:58] Barbara: Thank you for your wonderful questions and your interests and for inviting me.
[01:15:05] Barton: It's a pleasure.
[01:15:06] Barbara: Thank you.
[01:15:10] [END OF AUDIO]