Twisting Facts Is Easier Than Straitening Lies…Or, Believing Lies Is Easier Than Understanding Facts

Thomas More said to King Henry VIII, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”[from Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons”] In today’s world, sadly, people in power and their minions dole out “alternative facts” like casino chips and millions of supporters cannot make the distinction – or, worse, choose to ignore the distinction.  Those of us who value the distinction need to strengthen our voices.

(Note: “Alternative facts” is not to be confused with “alternative reality” a la the social constructed reality in which we each have different interpretations of the same factual experience or event. Simplest example would be: We don’t all see our immediate supervisor in the same way, or our teachers, or our elected representatives, or our country, etc. Yet, each person’s reality is just as valid as the others’…with the facts as the foundation. See my previous posts, here, here, and here, on making such distinctions.)

hoar frost

Ever since I started my blog, I have been trying, sometimes very hard, to stay away from politics, unless I found justifications for tying it to organizations. Yet, the obvious has been staring at me all these years: From a “system” perspective, politics inevitably impacts organizations and vice versa, and individuals involved, which include every one of us, are all players. How can organizations and politics be neatly separated, especially when hundreds of millions of dollars get involved? Why has it taken me so long to admit the obvious? The answer is that it has everything to do with my upbringing: Be modest; be moderate; don’t stir things up; don’t call attention to yourself, etc. And getting into politics is a sure way to draw fire, from all quarters, and these days, people get downright violent in their social media language.

However, I feel compelled to address some political issues, as my internal frustration and despair are mounting. So I will start 2018 full-throttle on politics/systems, still with the attention to organizational/management issues, and I will maintain my civil language.

mt. washington

Two recent developments in our society have convinced me of the need to address political issues: (1) The willy-nilly disregard for facts, conjoined with the failure to separate wheat from chaff, seems to be growing in large sectors of the society. This alarms me and convinces me that we need to emphasize facts and evidence whenever we address policies that would impact a large swath of people, hence the opening quote. I acknowledge the body of research teaching us that emphasizing facts does not sway opinions, at least not in the near term, but I believe that in the long term the facts win out, hopefully before being cruelly reinforced on a battlefield, provided they’re not allowed to be ignored. [The allusion to battlefield is inspired by George Orwell: “…[W]e are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue… the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”

(2) The recent onslaught of #MeToo stories made me realize that in public, I tend to put myself down…again, the need to be modest and moderate and not make waves always nags me. The saving grace is that whenever the stakes are high, I rise to the occasion and assert myself without the usual provisos. (In private conversations and amongst friends, I am totally comfortable because I know I am safe.) The #MeToo movement (which, unfortunately, touches my own history) finally wiped away those cobwebs in my psyche.


3 finger jack

So, in today’s post, I want to establish my intent, and lay down a couple of philosophical thoughts for why facts and evidence should always be our foundation.

Kathryn Schultz states in her “Fantastic Beasts and How to Rank Them(The New Yorker, Nov 6, 2017 issue):

One of the strangest things about the human mind is that it can reason about unreasonable things. [emphasis mine] It is possible, for example, to calculate the speed at which the sleigh would have to travel for Santa Claus to deliver all those gifts on Christmas Eve…And it is possible to decide that a yeti is more likely to exist than a leprechaun, even if you think that the likelihood of either of them existing is precisely zero.”  

What is “real” vs. what could be “real” is the key. However, making such distinction often requires critical thinking. Any theory, conspiracy or not, when it’s proposed on the internet, and especially if it’s picked up by MSM, becomes a legitimate consideration. I don’t know how this has come about, but the practice of bending the facts has been going on for a while (re, Orwell). Most noticeably, of course, is equivocating between Darwin’s scientifically proven “Evolution” theory and the totally bogus “Intelligent Design,” for which to date there has not been any evidence presented that does not even more compellingly support evolution.

Ever since human beings began to organize for common purposes, politicians have always been known to bend the truth, either for their personal gain or for “the greater good.” (This applies to politics in organizations as well.) But few have blatantly espoused lies out of thin air, boasted about such acts, and blame “fake news” every time they are being called out.

As Hanna Arendt observed decades ago: “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.”

“Fake news” used to be employed as a propaganda tool for disseminating falsehoods. But now, as the President of the United States of America, Mr. Trump has turned the table around, by creating a fountain of lies while labeling what he doesn’t like – especially when his lies are revealed – “fake news.” This has emboldened other politicians, both domestically and internationally, to employ and abuse the term whenever reporters challenge them.

However, the people who abuse “fake news” indiscriminately seemed to accept the predictions of hurricanes Harvey (hitting Texas in 2017) and Irma (hitting Florida right after Harvey) and the descriptions of the horrendous aftermath. But while they accepted that category V hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard, they balked at that aftermath narrative and blamed the Puerto Ricans for their plight.

glacier pond

So nowadays, instead of accepting facts, as Hanna Arendt predicted, we have become suspicious of fact- and evidence-based reporting. In other words, we suspect everything. From the perspective of the Russian interference in the US 2016 election, if the Russians’ intent was to get the American people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, our opponents have already won.

I no longer care to try to understand how fact-deniers “think” and their rationales. I no longer worry about how to converse with those who simply refuse facts. “Telling like it is” doesn’t need to be rude, and certainly shouldn’t be devoid of truths. “My [nuclear bomb] button’s bigger than your button” may be satisfying to some, indeed it would be downright laughable if it weren’t so frightfully pointing toward Armageddon. And when people rely on only lies, coupled with rudeness and taunts, their “conversations” become shouting matches, as evidenced in the current Trump-Bannon spat over Michael Wolff’s latest tell-all book on Trump’s White House.  (Google these names and you will have your choices of reading.)

All I can do is to stay on evidence and emphasize the facts, relentlessly.

Isaac Asimov said it well– (1980):

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Linking back to the quote earlier from the Fantastic Beasts, “life” may be magical, that doesn’t mean that we rely on magical thinking to live our daily lives.

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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“Fake It Till Make It” – Part II

In “Part I” I focused on “Adopting Power Posture to Feel Powerful”, and never thought I’d revisit the issue again. My previous post was largely based on Amy Cuddy’s research and TED talk in which she posits that a two-minute Wonder Woman’s power posture, hands on hips, would cause a spike in one’s adrenaline to accompany the assertion of confidence, which in turn leads to greater willingness to take risks in subsequent behavior. Many followers of her TED presentation have commented that the power posture really works and has helped them build their confidence. Her paper was published in 2010; her TED talk was in 2012, and her career subsequently soared in the areas of public speaking and consulting all over the world.

Since then, the field of social psychology – Cuddy’s professional base – has gone through a paradigm shift urging new guidelines for methodology that are much more rigorous. The champions of this shift, one of whom went to Princeton with Cuddy, challenged the field’s decades-long research practices for relying too much on convenience and tolerance of personal biases (thinking they are immaterial and wouldn’t affect research outcomes), and profoundly lacking in replication of studies. (Reinforcing this last point, journals have not been welcoming of “replication” articles.) These reformers suspected that most studies confirmed researchers’ hypotheses – false positive — and were insufficiently subjected to follow-up studies that would support or refute these confirmations.

This was a huge warning to the field of social psychology (and likely other branches of social sciences). The initial hostile reactions to the reformers’ challenge became louder and messy dynamics ensued. Dr. Cuddy’s work got ensnared in the back-and-forth. While there have been a few other prominent scholars whose studies have been questioned, none seemed to have suffered the same degree of browbeating and crashing of a promising career as Dr. Cuddy has. She has since withdrawn her tenure submission from the Harvard Business School.

The crux of the criticism of Dr. Cuddy’s initial work, the research on power pose, was: (1) the sample size of 42, 21 pairs of power pose and non-power pose, was too small, (2) the measurement of testosterone and cortisol levels was imprecise and/or inaccurate, (3) the danger of false positive results was not adequately addressed, and (4) at least one replication study done by a different researcher demonstrated that Dr. Cuddy’s power pose conclusion was weak at best.

My initial reaction to Dr. Cuddy’s power pose study was a sense of disquiet – for instance, can such a surge in confidence be sustained long enough to be beneficial? It was largely based on some philosophical considerations (see my previous post on the topic). The methodological issue is much more consequential; yet, the ensuing quarrels in the field have largely taken on philosophical, attitudinal, or social dimensions, and even touched on professional etiquette, far-removed from what a “simple” technical forum would entail. Personally, I think this reflects the messy nature of most social topics (consider the current storm regarding sexual assaults and harassments…or more mundane stuff like “performance evaluation”). I still think there is a lot of validity in the semi-jest term “physics envy” for describing social sciences.

A good portion of the ugliness in the criticism of Cuddy’s work came in the form of blogs and other social media. The three reformer-researcher-authors have their own blog,, that focuses on methodological and statistical issues, of which Cuddy’s work was one entry that has attracted readers across different disciplines. I understand and appreciate anyone who, in today’s internet-centric world, desiring more direct feedback and generating more discussion, takes it to blog format; however, there is a tendency for relaxed decorum in such a format. As one professor points out, “Because of social media and how it travels – you get pile-ons when the critique comes out, and 50 people share it in the view of thousands. That’s horrifying for anyone who’s critiqued, even if it’s legitimate.” (from New York Times Magazine article) Even one of the three authors for data colada, Joseph Simmons, who attended Princeton with Amy Cuddy, thought the treatment and criticism of Dr. Cuddy’s power-pose research has been unfair; after all, “the original study wasn’t particularly egregious. It was published in 2010 before anyone was thinking about this [the subsequent methodological revolution].”

It is difficult to objectively assess why Cuddy’s work was made to be the “poster child” for the criticism, especially without a rigorous study to survey professional reactions to Dr. Cuddy’s work and to compare the treatments of other top researchers’ pre-revolution studies. Even if we could do such a study, can we replicate it?! Sarcasm aside, I personally find the pile-on treatment particularly troubling. It is understandable that we all would defend our data, our methods, and our findings, for as long as possible; however, if enough subsequent evidence ultimately leads to a contradictory conclusion, no matter how uncomfortable for us personally, we learn to yield and move on. (This is the core of the scientific method and indeed the entire Scientific Revolution: We learn to accept the conclusions demanded by evidence.) Dr. Cuddy has grudgingly acknowledged her initial study’s flaws and tried to move on, so, why the personal attacks? Perhaps for social scientists themselves, it is not so easy to separate the work from personality, and for critics of social science, it’s much more fun to not even try?

While I was not a big fan of the power-pose study, it was intriguing. Now that I understand how weak the results are, I am fine with using the study as a springboard for further discussions. I simply do not understand why there is, and I emphatically deny any need for, adolescent rudeness and an infantile lack of decorum on social media in critiquing/attacking others’ work. Academics who would otherwise observe professional courtesy and standards in writing for journal publications become brutal, arrogant, and almost bullying on Facebook, Twitter, blog (personal or professional), or whatever form du jour.

It’s understandable that Cuddy’s research got the lion’s share of scrutiny – the bigger the reputation, the bigger the target – yet, it’s ironic that the very movement that tries to steer away personal bias seems driven by personal bias (why did they choose Cuddy’s work to focus on? Was it purely based on the hyperbolic reception of the work rather than the offending execution of the work?). It’s easier to target the most noticeable mistake, rather than the most egregious. So, these critics just threw their darts at an obvious target (TED talk has that effect, especially when it’s the second most popular one) rather than first making systematic assessment, say of other previous well-known studies. Isn’t that the very definition of selecting data based on convenience?

After finishing reading New York Times’ expose of this whole saga, all I can think of is: We sure like to scapegoat others for the very attribute for which we can be just as flawed. Shakespeare’s Hamlet scolds his mother for this: “Lay not that flattering unction to your soul, that not your trespass but my madness speaks.”

I used to feel apologetic for ending an article in a negative tone, and especially so close to our end-of-year holiday seasons. Times have changed…


Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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When Operating a Business Isn’t About Business…when a business tycoon isn’t a business leader

When Mr. Donald J. Trump ran for the President of the United States of America in 2016, many argued that a successful businessman might make a better world leader. I pointed out the fundamental fallacy of that thinking then – such thinking is still fallacious – and now that the current POTUS is Mr. Trump, let’s use some business yardsticks to look at how his performance has been.

Before such an assessment, though, let’s examine some fundamental premises of Mr. Trump’s business operations. To begin with, it is highly suspect to say that Mr. Trump was a “successful” businessman. He was, however, excellent at marketing his brand. And no doubt after he retires from running the USA, he’ll cash in on his tenure at the White House to strengthen his brand, whether he will have tarnished the brand of “White House” or not. Sometimes, infamy works well too; there is no shortage of people with perverse penchant for anything that can make a splash in the headlines.

Many have pointed out that had Mr. Trump simply invested his inheritance in routine vehicles, he could have accrued more assets than his current standing, particularly after at least four bankruptcies and countless lawsuits. But more importantly, what does the brand “Trump” signify? other than hotels and golf courses? It is particularly dismaying that we collectively keep equating moneyed class with successful class; what’s more disheartening is revealed in this question: What have some of these “successful” businesses, their owners or CEOs, produced? Have they created any products that have benefited our lives, and/or, contributed to the advancement of human race? Shifting money, such as hedge fund mangers, selling image, or marketing fancy services or goods does not make us better educated, informed, healthier or wise.

Furthermore, while Mr. Trump was the owner of his brand and business empire, he was never a true CEO running a big corporation of, say, 50,000, employees where he might have to better understand the actual operations of a big organization. He ran a family business where he could throw his weight around, stiff contractors willy nilly, or, hide behind bankruptcies while relying on taxpayers to provide him with a cushioned landing. These acts do not make a successful businessman. Yet, many have equated his significant name recognition, often gold plated, with “success.”

So, now Mr. Trump is running the government of this world’s leading nation. How has that been going? First, he appointed a bunch of “outsiders” to lead the various departments they purported to disdain before the appointments. I can understand a strand of argument that perhaps the best way to eliminate an organization is to have someone as a leader who has no knowledge of but with full disrespect for the said organization. Yet the very same people who support this argument would whine whenever an organization leader wants to cut their jobs or funds. A blanket slogan, such as “cut regulations,” or, “smaller government” offer neither direction nor enabling specifics. What does a small government actually mean and entail? Have we, as a country, had such discussions? other than throwing size-only generalizations? Based on the administration’s submitted budget proposal – cutting all major services and programs except military spending and building a wall, the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) proclaimed the difficulty of making a genuine assessment because the outline is too vague, but offered a picture of a weak economy with little projected growth.

We certainly have too many useless and cumbersome rules, but which ones to eliminate? The rules I favor may be thorns in others’ sides, and vice versa. What are the metrics by which to cut rules? No one from the current administration has offered any clear definition…mostly because the top executive knows only how to produce catchy slogans without directives.

Let’s use the EPA as an example. So far, the EPA secretary, relying largely on the input of industries, has eliminated rules on asbestos, lead-based ammunition, the pesticide chlorpyrifos that can cause cognitive damage in children. Really? When proven substances have been banned for decades (or, about to be banned under Obama administration)…why allow them back now, or allow a pesticide to hurt children? Yes, yes, one could argue that since no sane business operators would knowingly use these substances again, why not ditch the rules? However, do we really and truly trust the business world? How many scandals do we need, especially at the expenses of people’s lives, savings, or health?

There is another erroneous narrative for free-market among the general public: that competitive business is always for the betterment of consumers. Yeah. How many times has our collective private information been sold without us knowing? Or, been hacked with companies being reluctant to owning the mistake of insecure cybersystems? And why would any private citizen who pays even a modicum of attention to the net neutrality issue consent to let the big companies dictate how the internet should be organized? And who in their right mind still believes that reserved seats and paid-for airline tickets means the seats are guaranteed? The list is long and ugly.

Let’s further use the “free market” or the “invisible hand” argument for running the country like business operations. Shall we then allow all the small and poor towns that are on the verge of losing everything to just simply die out? Shall we let all big cities and states that are struggling financially just declare bankruptcy? Shall we let all the elderly and the poor who can’t afford housing or health care just lift themselves with their own bootstraps? Because that’s what ruthless business models would propose … until when chips are down and the big players crawl to D.C. for bailout, taking taxpayers’ money. If we truly want to rely on business models, we should ignore the coal industry’s cry for help; it’s been dying for decades, not just under Obama administration.

Speaking of energy issues, if observing green energy would cost jobs, how do we account for all the growth in the alternative energies sectors? And if solar and wind energy markets have been growing and creating jobs worldwide, why don’t we go with that trend even more? instead of ceding market and thought leadership to China, Germany, and other countries? If we want to make America great again (why hasn’t anyone defined clearly and succinctly what era shall we aim for that “greatness?”), why don’t we assert our leadership in solar, wind, electric cars, high speed trains, etc? For heaven’s sake, US pioneered solar technology, and now we are giving that position (and market) away.

In all the brouhaha of “Making America Great Again,” no one bothers to define in what ways shall we be “great” again, and therefore in what ways have we lost our edge. When I entered this country in the mid 70s, I didn’t articulate why I wanted to come to the States or how I have grown to embrace my newfound home. In retrospect, it has been the freedom of speech, the joy of pursuing whatever comes to people’s minds, the enthusiasm of tinkering with ideas, the celebration of brain power. Many have complained that Americans have always been either suspicious of, or harbor borderline disdain for, brain power, and I have often puzzled over this.

Is brain power only manifested in high test scores? While American schools always seemed to be “loose” on disciplining children (especially compared to schools in Chinese culture), I contend that it is such “loose” freedom — to think, to play, to wander, to try — that has provided the bedrock for innovation and creativity. Interestingly, most countries scoring mediocre on tests are the ones showing higher entrepreneurial accomplishment or pushing the frontier in basic sciences. It is indeed in these areas, especially cutting edge research, that America has been slipping. It is definitely not because we are not using as much coal nor seeing less people embrace religion, or accepting gay culture that has made America weak. It’s our enthusiasm for, even our aptitude for, critical thinking that’s been under attack.

No longer do we seem to celebrate the thinking class. Somehow we have come to scorn those who think. I will never ever forgive Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice-president candidate, for epitomizing such scorn…thereby forever staining those who promoted her.

One could argue that Mr. Trump has been on the job for only six months, and therefore, we should give him more time to grow and learn. But, has he shown willingness or capacity to listen to others who are not in his family, and grown in knowledge of operating a government? To what extent can we trust that the country and the world this country is supposed to lead will be improving in the next six months? If the recent G-20 summit is any indicator (recent? It feels like eons ago.), it seems that the rest of the world is leaving us behind.

China has stepped in the vacuum Mr. Trump has deliberately created. Whether Europe will work with China and allow her to assert the leadership role remains to be seen, but we can’t expect Europe to wait around for us to wake up. Those who think with Mr. Trump that NATO has soaked up our wealth forget history. US helped create NATO to contain the elements that made WWII possible, and to eliminate the costs that WWIII would incur; it was a way for the European countries to stay connected, while seriously inhibiting any one actor from taking up arms or military dominance again. So, now we are handing the reins back to Germany and France, and giving a green light to Russia. Perhaps we really can’t learn from history.

None of the above is what a truly good business leader would do. Even if we accept that US government is a global conglomerate organization – which it is not — it is unwise to hunker down to domestic affairs only. In negotiating with global partners, a CEO does not delegate power without first delineating the prime directives. A CEO refrains from allowing young children without any qualifications to run the show. And entering into a negotiation by first belittling or disparaging potential partners- maybe ok in a near-term real estate deal but an invitation to our “partners” to stab us in the back when a future international alliance is at stake.

Sometimes, becoming a business leader requires deviant thinking and behavior, breaking a few norms, stepping on a few toes. However, had a CEO insulted disabled people and veterans, or openly bragged about taking pleasure in seeing teenage women naked or scoring grabbing women’s genitals, that CEO would have been fired, sued, or discarded in no time, and in no uncertain terms. Somehow, the same people who want a business person to run the world’s largest government regard these acts, or the complaints about them, as unimportant “diversions.”

Most importantly is the fact that the US government is not a global conglomerate with profit making as the goal. As I said before, and I will say it again and again, running a government, any government, is about juggling a wide range of diverse and potentially conflicting goals with a budget that’s never enough. Prioritizing these goals is maddeningly complicated and executing action to achieve them is even more complicated – “Who knew?!” – and sometimes a leader has to cajole allies, massage egos, bully opponents without seeming to do so, or lie subtly (white, blue, or black…depending on the local situations) in order to get things done or move along. Smashing china is easy – most likely fun for a 5-year old – but creating the next generation of design and high-quality china requires very different skills than smashing. Side note: A five-year old would be great for creativity, but not old enough to understand “quality.”

America made an insane choice in the 2016 election. I only hope that when all’s done someone can help us restore this beautiful country that I have come to love and embrace as my “first” country.


Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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White Lie, Black Lie, Blue Lie: So…lies are not all equal

I knew if I waited long enough, I’d come across more articles informing me about our lying behavior. Ahem…right. I kind of just lied…well, it’s more of a justification for my procrastination, or stretching the truth, or telling a white lie. I could have come up with more elaborate “reasons” for why I waited till now to post an article based on what I read about “blue lies” in mid March, two months ago. Indeed, I might have done so, without thinking, had I not been primed by my reading on lying. It turns out, we lie easily, quite often, and not always with remorse.

Blue lies—a psychologist’s term for falsehoods, told on behalf of a group, that can actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group.”

As a student of intergroup dynamics, I admit that I have not encountered the term, blue lie, until recently. And it seems that most of the popular press that has picked up the term all cite the same source, a blog article in Scientific American published 3/24/2017.

The author of the article further stresses that the person who tells the blue lies has only his self-interest in mind, but knows that his lies will benefit his “group members.” I would add that a perpetrator having only has his own interests in mind may not always know, or care, what is/are the group(s) that will benefit from his lie. So, I guess one can further differentiate among liars: the truly self-absorbed narcissist, and the “well-intentioned” loyalist who wants to help her particular group in addition to her own benefit. Actually, I would put the narcissist’s lies squarely in the camp of black lies, the outright lie for self interest only. Not very comforting either way.

In this light, politicians do not monopolize the use of blue lies; I can imagine members of sports teams (or their coaches: When two opposing teams’ coaches exhort “We’re going to win” at least one of them is lying), or among different professional groups within an organization (say, between researchers and marketing reps, school administrators and teachers, etc.) all employ this tactic…all done without necessarily being conscious of lying. So while not very comforting in concept, we accept it as a matter of course in reality.

In fact, we humans lie easily, readily, more often than we are aware of doing, and often without apology. According to the latest issue of National Geographic –with the title “Why We Lie” that inspired me to finish this article – “We all lie, but not all lies are the same. People lie and tell the truth to achieve a goal: ‘We lie if honest won’t work.’” The most common reason for our lies is “personal transgression,” to hide our mistakes or misbehaviors, and the second most common is to gain “economic advantage,” followed closely by “personal advantage” separate from financial concerns.

And we learn to lie at an early age. For instance, children learn early that white lies are sometimes necessary, for whatever purposes — not wanting to hurt others’ feelings, needing to break a bad news at a better time, or covering someone’s embarrassing mistake that didn’t hurt anyone, etc. They also learn to accept blue lies in various team sports and projects. Older children are more willing to go along with blue lies than younger ones. It doesn’t have to be monumental lies; just glossing over some small rule-breaking behaviors or covering for members’ short absence, etc.

Adults’ lies are often more elaborate and consequences are more weighty, with the intent hidden beneath the consciousness and therefore making the exposing of it that much harder. I now wonder if the cyclist, Lance Armstrong, internalized his repeated lies at the Tour de France tournament as in the nature of “blue lies” serving his own self-interest while benefiting the team?

As adults we have come to recognize, and accept albeit grudgingly for some, that intelligence agencies lie in order to protect the greater good of the country’s geopolitical position. But regarding top management’s lies for the “greater good” of the organization of which we are a part: We tend to be less accepting of these lies. One possible explanation for such different reactions to different entities perhaps resides in our sense of “membership.” Most of us feel a stronger affinity toward our country, culture, or tribe than toward corporate entities that would show no qualms about kicking us out in a heartbeat “if they had to.” Actually, organizations may not always be, and may not always have been, heartless and soulless. But it appears that as they get bigger, face fiercer competition, take on greater environmental and regulatory challenges concomitant with larger territory served and organizational growth, they lose compassion for their employees – and, paradoxically, their customers. United Airlines, anyone?

So, why do we take in the lies as if they are facts and truths? Because as it is natural for humans to lie, it’s also part of our makeup to need to trust…trusting those who inform us throughout our lives. Without such trust, we would have to negotiate every step we take every waking moment in our daily life. We’d collapse from exhaustion in no time. The challenge is why we often hold onto our beliefs in the face of evidence disproving our worldview? (Some items are easier to toss out, like, admitting the movie we just saw wasn’t quite as good as we espoused it to be, or the suit I bought for $1,000 really made me look lumpy…only if I could wear the “Armani” label outside.)

Further, why are some people, some groups, more prone to taking in lies despite knowing that they might be duped? (Among other examples, Harold Camping’s predictions of the Rapture for 1994 then May 2011 then October 2011 come to mind.) After all, when was the last time you changed your mind immediately upon being presented evidence that is 180 degrees different from what you had believed in? We rarely, if at all, change our minds in the fashion of flash of a bang. (Camping’s radio ministry apparently still has subscribers.) For the most part, by the time we realize that we have changed our minds, it’s been in the works for quite some time and the seeds of change are no longer easily identified.

Still, this doesn’t address my disquiet sense that some people are more stubborn than others. Perhaps we are born and wired differently, transcending decades of quality education? And perhaps there are no ready-made answers? In fact, research has demonstrated that in the face of being shown how wrong we have been, we hold onto the wrong notions even stronger. So, how do we change our own minds? Let alone others’ minds? The typical teaching points of how to persuade others to change their beliefs, feel pedestrian. “Listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately” is much harder done than said. And we always know that “the other side” doesn’t listen well.

At the end of the NG article, its answer to how to counter the onslaught of untruths and downright lies in the 21st century, hastened and magnified by the social media and technologies, is unnerving. “Technology has opened up a new frontier for deceit, adding a 21st-century twist to the age-old conflict between our lying and trusting selves.”

For the moment, I can only make myself much more aware of the need to verify the information I receive. As for convincing others to change their views? I am at an infant stage in that arena.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Fact, Truth, Reality…which one is debatable?

  • Author’s note: Since our move to the northwest, I have been busy setting up the new household. Our lives have been full yet relaxing. We haven’t quite completely immersed in the local community, but that’s just a matter of time. Neither have I resumed my painting, but that too, will be part of my daily routine in due course. In the meantime, I have had the urge to comment on some aspects of the development of our society, which intertwines closely with organizational life.



A child asks mom, “what is that man doing?” Mom says, “He’s entertaining.” Child, “No, what is he doing?” Mom, “He’s performing.” Child gasped, “But what is he doing?” Mom tries again, “He’s making people smile.” Child continues, “But what is he doing?” Mom finally adopts the conventional definition, “He’s juggling.” Child responds, “But what is juggling?” and on we go.

Which version of the mother’s responses is real is beyond debate. All versions are real, depending on where you are, how you see things, and what occupies your mind at the moment. If Mom happens to be fresh out of work, she might answer, “He’s making a living.” Of course, there is also the issue of the “audience.” So, the child’s curiosity may finally be addressed by another different response, “He’s having fun!”

The above example is an illustration of socially constructed reality. The fact is: A man is tossing balls, or juggling pins, or cones, in the air, catching a few before tossing them up again, while catching the other few. There are also the facts that a child is asking a question, and the mother is trying to ascertain how to answer the child satisfactorily. The truth is that an engaging parent would utilize interactions with his child to offer answers, lessons, ideas, etc. But at no point will the parent ever engage in offering “alternative fact,” which is a lie. No parents, with sane minds, would deliberately tell their child that the juggler is fishing or farming, nor that a dog is a “pig,” the sun a “lollipop” or a stone is “bread.”

When I first heard the term “alternative fact,” I gasped. Granted all politicians prevaricate and “spin,” but to engage in downright lies, to espouse random accusations without a shred of fact, or to formulate policy based on an opinion pulled out of thin air, it makes me wonder, “Might this be what living in the days of [one of the most seditious Roman emperors] Caligula felt like?” Good God. I heard of one apologist’s defense of “alternative fact,” that it is used as a means to stay defiant. Defiant against what? Establishment? Do facts now only exist in the “establishment”? Or, using facts is now considered “elite”?

Back in NM

Back in NM

Then, I began to question myself about one of the fundamental pillars of my being a social scientist: socially constructed reality. I asked myself: How do I make it clear to others who aren’t familiar with this term, the difference between socially constructed reality and lies? We recognize there are multiple realities, which could be called alternative realities, per the opening example and explored further below, but by definition there can be no “alternative facts,” not even as euphemism.

We go through our daily lives, taking “reality” for granted. We don’t even think about our mutually agreed norms, rituals, salutations…etc. We drive on the right side of the road in this country; we apologize when we accidentally bump into each other; we discuss topics using tacitly agreed rules and norms. (Well, we used to.) The socially constructed reality is a perspective for social scientists in their pursuit of generating knowledge. As a social scientist, it is my professional interest as well as responsibility to observe the different realities that people bring into their work, organizational life, and various social situations. And I try to ascertain the core from which different perspectives emanate.

Nuclear physicists and engineers rely on detailed facts to build nuclear facilities. How nuclear energy should be used would be in the realm of socially constructed reality. It may be to the chagrin of the scientists and engineers, having spent lifetimes figuring out how nuclear energy can be used, but that’s our social reality, partly because scientists are also human beings with all human foibles and emotions in making judgment, with which utilization of scientific discoveries happens – or doesn’t. Architects and contractors build hospitals, but when, where and for how much, and how the space is designed and used, often get politicized, i.e. socially constructed reality. Issues such as, who gets the corner office, which wings should house the patients (but somehow admin always gets the nicest wing), or where the bathrooms be located (read “Fix the woman” for the quarrels about access to bathroom; here & here) get decided and resolved through social interactions.

A manager’s view of an employee’s “being late” is different from the said employee’s own reality. The employee arriving late at work might be due to a car accident on the way to work. Or, her child woke up with a fever and she had to make a last-minute arrangement. It is within the manager’s right to say, “She still has to perform work professionally and diligently.” However, a little understanding can go a long way toward building trust, understanding, and workforce morale. Yes, the quality of the employee’s work could become delinquent and shoddy, but is one day’s work performance determinant of the employee’s worth?

If we normalize the use of “alternative fact,” it will eventually trickle down into the fabric of society, including corporations and organizations. I can imagine scenarios where a manager can easily tell a direct report, “Sorry, Joan, I cannot give you any promotion or raise this year because your recent work for project Y was sloppy. I have an alternative fact; I’m declaring that Mary actually saved the project.” Even though Joan had been working overdrive to push for project Y to be done on time. (Perhaps Mary and the manager have been besties for months?) If Joan complains to senior managers, she’s unlikely to be heard objectively since Joan’s manager couldn’t have carried out such “alternative fact” approach without the collusion of higher management. Chances are the higher the managerial ladder reaches, the more often the managers are tempted to use the “alternative facts.” It’s a perfect tool to seize and abuse power.

Now in OR

Now in OR

I used to think “true fact” is a silly redundant expression…well, it still is.

One of my favorite quotes is from the Robert Bolt play “A Man for All Seasons,” about the life of Thomas More under Henry VIII, in which Thomas More said, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”[*] In today’s world, sadly, people in power and their minions are declaring alternative facts and millions of supporters cannot make the distinction. Those of us who can need to keep the lights on.

Who knew? My signature mantra seems to be even more pertinent these days,


Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.


[*] Taken from the text of the play, available via Amazon. Even more poignant is this quote from Bolt’s Preface to the text of the play (Bolt, 1960):

“A man takes an oath only when he wants to commit himself quite exceptionally to the statement, and when he wants to make an identity between the truth of it and his own virtue; he offers himself as a guarantee… Of course, it is much less effective now … we would prefer most men to guarantee their statements with, say, cash rather than themselves. We feel – we know – the self to be an equivocal commodity…”


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Farewell…second time

In May a year ago, I thought I had written enough about the various topics in management of interest to me. I knew I was becoming repetitive at that point. Yet, assuming people wouldn’t have read every single article on this blog, repetition doesn’t carry a huge risk. It’s for the sake of my own mind that I needed to take a long break. Still, I anticipated the possibility that I would occasionally want to espouse some points-of-view on topics that tickle my interests. So, I kept the doors ajar.

Part of the reason I knew I’d still post articles from time to time was my commitment to our local newspaper, which picked up my blog articles two years after I started the TASO site. So, after I slowed down writing for my own blog, I continued for the newspaper and for a while could recycle my older articles on TASO, but only the ones that were general and not based on some current hot topics of the time. And yet, when a certain topic demands immediate attention, such as the article exposing Amazon’s inner working culture, I feel compelled to ride the wave. In such cases, I write some fresh articles and post simultaneously on my blog as well as for my local newspaper.

The Way Home

The Way Home

The “farewell” this time has a little more staying momentum. After my husband’s retirement at the end of this year, we will be moving to central Oregon. We did not choose to move because of an unpleasant experience in our current community – in fact, we still love northern New Mexico enormously – but we decided to try an experiment: For the first time in our lives, apart and together, we will be moving to a place because we want to be there, rather than because of our professional commitments, even though these commitments have brought us joy as well. Our future community has many similarities to where we are now, dry climate, open space, mountains, lots and lots of outdoor activities to offer. The major differences are that there is a real river with year-round constant flow right through the city, and the annual precipitation is fairly even throughout the year. In addition, it’s a new-ish city with a youthful energy which we desire. We retire due to our biological age, not our minds’.

Neither of us knows exactly what we’ll be pursuing, and that’s terribly exciting. I will continue paint and write, though the contents of these activities are likely to evolve into different directions and domains. But I will also pursue new subjects for sure.

Since the publisher of my local newspaper has graciously invited me to submit writing whenever the mood seizes me, after I settle in our new home, I probably will reappear in TASO again…somewhen in 2017. Whenever you think of this site, please check in again occasionally come next year, won’t you? Till then,


Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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A Pictorial Memory Journey

Looking back at the photographic endeavors that accompany my writing, I offer some of my favorite images in this penultimate post…at least till spring of 2017.

I am not a morning person by nature, and so whenever I catch spectacular sunrises, they’re all the more special to me. I was grateful for some of the sunrise shots, just in time to debut my blog in 2010.



The dramatic sky in the southwest is almost a weekly event, sometimes daily. I must have accumulated hundreds of shot in my files. I can’t choose my favorites, but here are a few awesome ones.


And the clouds. The Clouds! I learned about “mammatus” in this part of world, and cannot get enough of them. I await the experience of capturing one during sunset, with the wildly vivid colors reflecting on them…someday.


My painting career has really taken off since I moved to northern New Mexico in 2002. I have since exhibited a few times and sold a few paintings.




And this year, I started the exercise of painting left-handed, using my non-dominant hand that might have been my dominant hand. Here is the first trial.


We created a backyard where colors, fruit, and wild look are the themes; it’s given us so much pleasure.


And now that I have overcome my reptile phobia (my high school biology text book had centerfold of snakes; I glued the pages), I actually find some pleasure in encountering them. They are certainly fascinating.


The typical vivid mixture of colors in autumn in the East is a fond memory. Yet, after living in the southwest high desert for a while, I have come to welcome with joy the yellowing aspens every autumn. Occasionally orange and red are mixed in, but yellow is the dominant color. When the breeze ripples through the aspen leaves, they do sound like gold coins. I think the yellow aspens (and cottonwood) reflect the quieter atmosphere in this part of the world because we don’t get much traffic congestion. Even during the peak of the season, when everyone wants to catch the beautiful views, the traffic is nowhere comparable to that endured on the east coast.




The ski resort that’s only 25-min drive from door to door is great, but what’s even greater is that the mountain offers quite challenging runs, even mentioned two years ago by National Geographic. I improved my skills here, and my son got his ski patroller certificate at age 14. I swear you never see unhappy people on ski hills.



And petroglyphs! There are a few special preserved sites, but there are occasional finds on random trails…and trails are readily available in our neighborhood and beyond.



Of course, there are more, but these few immediately come to my mind.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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