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"One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time." Carl Sagan

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Code Makers War
4:15 pm est 

Monday, September 14, 2009

Do we all have Hungry Ghosts?

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
By Gabor Mate M.D.

This book has the power to shock yet the passion to change your attitude forever towards not only addictions but to the people suffering with them at the edge of our often fragile human society.

Meet Dr. Mate; he has mustered the courage to take on a post in Vancouver's east side working with societies toughest group of people. These are the street people who live in what has been called one of the world's most livable cities. They live in the now where survival is a constant struggle.

With the tone of a friend telling you a story over a drink Gabor Mate weaves his story into a compassionate tale of survival and sadly more often than not hopelessness. Coloured with many interactions with his patients and with his own personal struggles this book is like a gift from the other side. The other side being that part of society that is shunned and rarely viewed by main stream society. -sak 

10:13 am edt 

Monday, July 13, 2009

How do you apply the alternative in the real world.

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
By Alfie Kohn

The alternatives to rewards that Kohn suggests are based in creativity and care. What he basically suggests is to treat all people with respect by giving them control over their education or their work. The foundation of rewards seems to be a matter of control and Kohn says the epitome of this is that even a 5 year old child can see right through it. If the phenomena of reverse psychology and the placebo effect have taught us anything; it is that people just simply don't like to be told what to do.

With these thoughts in mind Kohn suggests that:

1. In the workplace: people be given a fair salary for their work and assigned work but given as much freedom and control to complete it. Without competitive driving incentives the workers begin to work as a team and stop working against each other. Workers are more likely to come forward to honestly report problems when they know it is for the better of all and not just going to reduce their bonus. The workers will keep a more open mind. He also makes a social statement that we need to question the ethical responsibility of buying products that have been produced by putting workers through mind numbing repetitiveness. If it is produced this way we shouldn't buy it. Another side theory emerges that points the finger at rewards for producing a society afflicted with rampant consumerism. Keeping up with the Joneses so to speak.

2: In the schools: Here is a dilemma indeed. Kohn explains that thoughtful teaching where students are provided with opportunities to give meaningful important input to the course curriculum is paramount to providing students with an inherent interest in what they are learning. The decisions must be important issues that are gently directed by the teacher. In effect they must be allowed to make mistakes. I don't think anyone would disagree with the power of learning from your mistakes. (Scouts: learn while doing philosophy). Also the grades are important but they should be kept at arms length from the students. An example is "you are doing just fine in all areas; this area needs improvement specifically with this issue". In study after study it was shown that kids focusing on grades damaged and poisoned learning environments by creating a me against you; divide and conquer; competitive atmosphere as opposed to the powerful efficient team spirited learning and discovery machine it needs to be.

3. At home raising kids: This is the toughest issue yet I think. Again the control issue seems to be at the heart of the problem of giving rewards or punishments. According to Kohn and the literature children should be give choices and be allowed to make mistakes. Safety trumps all however careful explanations are needed so that what may be obvious to an adult can be made clear to the child. Saying listen to me because I am the parent and you are the child without explanation teaches a dangerous lesson. Kohn reiterates that at home and at school our goal should be to raise creative people who can make decisions and think for themselves. The result of blind obedience seems to be mindless automatons or robots. I think everyone will agree with Kohn on the fact that these types of kids can get into a lot of trouble when they listen and obey the wrong people.

The book closes with an interview with B.F. Skinner the father of modern behaviorism. This is an invaluable insight into the mind and theories of Skinner. He apparently was a troubleshooter at heart. He saw everything as a problem to be solved and even is credited for inventing things. The questions Kohn asks of Skinner are very pointed yet Skinner patiently answers to each one with a careful and thoughtful response. Stay tuned for the conlusion. -sak.
11:14 am edt 

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yea but what is the alternative!!!

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
By Alfie Kohn

I am glad to see I am not the only one thinking about a plan-b when rewards or punishments just don't work. It seems that everyone agrees that they never do! When the author presents his findings at conferences and meetings the three words he hears the most are "what's the alternative".

This Kohn says is a fair question. Essentially he is saying that rewards and punishments are a no-brainer to administrate and doing the right thing is. That is it takes a lot of brain power, work, and practice to do the things that will get results.

An example in the work place is to pay people fairly and give them a job to do and let them do it. Over supervising is the same thing as using rewards and punishments. When the worker doesn't
have money pushed in their face continuously they will do a better job. The underlying control strategies of rewards and punishments are so transparent Kohn says that a 4 year old can see through them. When the worker is not afraid of making a mistake for fear of losing a reward or recieving a punishment they will communicate honestly about what problems are occurring in the work place.

The same essential message is there for kids in school. Learning is a multi-dimensional experience. It involves communicating with others, moving around the class, testing ideas, and not being afraid of being wrong. These unfortunately are all things that get discouraged in the classroom. -sak

11:04 am edt 

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Revolutionary look at rewards and how they make problems!!!

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes
By Alfie Kohn

This is a fantastic revelation regarding the reward system that everyone seems to thinks is a cure all for everything from teaching kids in school to encouraging productivity in the workplace. Common sense seems to dictate that rewards should work. I have to admit that having gone through this system I also have a lot of difficulty accepting that rewards can have a detrimental effect. I mean I can accept that rewards may not always work perfectly but that they actually do damage seems tough to swallow.

However difficult to accept, the author has cited about 30 pages worth of references and more than 70 pages of notes to support his claim. Kohn's argument is thus very carefully constructed with many examples of experiments that show how rewards can hinder everything from productivity to creativity and even relationships.

The author first points out how rewards are merely thinly disguised consequences and are essentially equivalent. Examples of  how a reward can turn into a consequence seems to pop up everywhere in epidemic proportions. For example a teacher may promise a movie field trip to her class if they all behave for the entire week. Reward; right? But what if she doesn't end up bringing them because she decides they haven't behaved? Suddenly the reward has turned face and become a punishment.

If you bring this a step further; one might see that once a reward is offered for a certain behaviour or task completion, this certain behaviour or task suddenly becomes a barrier to obtaining the reward. Not only that but apparently according to the literature the person promised the reward will only do as much as necessary to get the reward. That is they will only do what is needed to break through the barrier so to speak to get to the reward.

Since the task to be completed is all that is done to get reward; the person just focuses on that task. It has been shown that the person now has a kind of tunnel vision and is not open to other possibilities. In study after study the results are the same: giving rewards for completing a task leads to diminished creativity. In one example subjects asked to memorize a list of words on different coloured cards were split into two groups. One group was promised a reward based on how many words they could remember. The second group was not promised anything. The group that wasn't promised a reward was able to remember not only the words but what colour of card the word was on. The group that was promised the rewards could remember words but was oblivious to the fact that some words were on different coloured cards. This lends credence to the fact that rewards lead to tunnel vision. The non-rewards group seemed to be more open to other possibilities.

Another aspect discussed by Kohn is the contest structure. A telling quote goes as follows; "want to turn a room full of people into losers then give a prize to only one of them at a ceremony...". This is interesting because one would think that competitions should bring out the best performance. But what competitions tend to do in a group situation is to poison the team spirit. The other people in your group now become barriers to getting the prize. In order to achieve best results the synergy of a team is needed. When synergy occurs the total becomes greater than the sum of the parts. According to other authors such as Stephen R. Covey
(Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People) synergy is where you can expect to see astronomical improvements in productivity. Seriously; he is not talking about 200 percent increase in productivity and creativity he is talking 2,000% - 10,000% increases! I think maybe this is why the undermining of creativity by rewards is so dramatic when such possible high levels of productivity due to synergy are diminished!

The competition reward model leads directly into sales type scenarios. Here rewards are given for more sales no matter what. According to Kohn this leads to tunnel vision on the part of the sales representatives. The symptoms of this he says is all too evident in the resulting unethical and even illegal activities that these workers engage in to get the most sales. An example is selling something with pressure to someone they know doesn't need it. Apparently the team approach is almost non-existent in these scenarios as workers here undermine each other in the race for the prize.

The list of reward's casualties just keeps on going. Two groups of students were asked to tutor younger students in mathematics. One group was promised a reward and the second group none. In the final evaluation the no-reward group had significantly better results with their students performing better at the target subject. The reward group actually not only had lower performing students but the way they attempted to tutor them was entirely different than the non-reward tutors. Not only were their students less competent but while tutoring they were less patient and they also were quick to criticize and be-little their students. This can be extended to the way teachers are negatively impacted by administrators. When teacher's bosses play the reward game not only do the teachers suffer but the students do also.

I am about half way through this book. Currently the author has presented each argument from both sides. Many practical examples are cited where reward systems have been tried out and subsequently scrapped after failure. I am curious to see the future section on the arguments in favour of rewards by the behaviourists. Questions that I am plagued with are as follows: what happens to individuals who are more competitive; do they thrive in a reward based system?
Are these individuals a product of the reward based system they grew up in or is it something they are born with? Should we turn our society into a population of volunteers if rewards stand in front of ultimate productivity? How should our salary structure change to benefit all? The most difficult question of all though I think is what is the definitive alternative to a system of rewards and punishment? According to others such as Stephen Covey we should all search out win-win situations and maybe just maybe this is a clue. Stay tuned. -sak
10:09 am edt 

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