Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The disappearing audience.


elevision is already fighting to keep teenagers and young adults, has always fought for male eyes and has been accused of being conservative to those of different lifestyles.

Motion Pictures, in an age of formula, big budgets and lot of hype appear to be doing the same.

Both now rate their success in 18 to 49 or even 18 to 30 rather than total audience and total viewers (meaning if you are older you need not apply).

And both, if the summer movie trend continues into the fall, are facing their own economic downfall if they do not change fast.

Try lowering costs, including the cost of cable and dish delivered media, the cost of high speed Internet service and of course movie tickets. Maybe then audiences will consider returning.

Look at yourself as a service consumers choose to buy rather than a utility people will just flock to.

Make your programming diverse, not just in race or gender or language, but also in intellectual appeal, subject matter and information content.

Stop looking of the largest profit, the largest box office dollars, the first weekend, most bodies in seats (at the theater or in front of the tube) and start thinking of cumulative loyalty and thus profits cross platform and cross productions.

If a film or show appeals to small numbers, are they quality numbers? Are they a group that is otherwise under-served? Then continue to treat them with respect,  because they will keep coming back for more and you will have a revenue base to build on.

Stop cancelling shows that educated adults, young children, older individuals, or specific groups love and gravitate to and find a way to build upon that loyalty and interest.

Stop pulling from the box office films that do not make huge bangs the opening weekend and filling every screen with films that are suppose to have mass (thus least common denominator or average consumer and not broad based) appeal then saying they fail because theaters are half full (too many screens?).

Start respecting your audiences.

Or be honest about your niche and target it.

And one more thing. Clean up theaters, lower prices, offer amenities (restaurants, bars, child care, valet parking, comfortable seats, best sound and video/film systems, cell phone blockers, employees who are trained to make the experience a good one instead of chewing gum and letting their friends in free), and keep films out there more than one or two weeks (word of mouth and taking into account busy modern schedules  can build loyalty, audience and profits).

Okay that was more than one…but there is so much more when it comes to complaints about how media ranks itself, serves its audience and decides what works and what does not…

More to come…

Art Lynch
Lynch Coaching

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hey! Listen Up!

Listening is the 
number one most important 
communication tool...
So listen up!

Professors, doctors, professionals in all fields.....Better buff up your on camera skills!

Alisha Reay helps get Ron Davis Jr. camera-ready for the Great Courses filming. Credit Vanessa Vick for The New York Times        

Attention, college professors: If you aspire to film a lecture series for the Great Courses, the extended-learning outfit here, be prepared to check your idiosyncrasies at the door.

“I had a professor who liked to rest his finger on his face,” Alisha Reay, a producer at the company, recalled, demonstrating the tic. “And he liked to use his middle finger.”

In two television-quality studios here, the company puts academics and other experts in front of cameras to record courses on a wide range of subjects — game theory, photography, ancient civilizations, differential equations, cooking with spices. The courses are aimed at people who want to further their education just for the sake of the knowledge (no tests or college credit here), but the filming process is an education, too, for the expert being filmed.

“If I’m going too fast for my students, I can see it in their eyes,” Ron Davis Jr., a chemistry professor at Georgetown University, said during a break from his first taping session for Foundations of Organic Chemistry recently. “But these cameras don’t react.”


Prof. Ron Davis Jr. of Georgetown University preparing to film a chemistry course. Credit Vanessa Vick for The New York Times

The company was founded in 1990, at first marketing audiotapes, and in June released its 500th course (Understanding Modern Electronics). It has been busy of late, entering into partnerships with National Geographic to expand on a popular photography course, the Culinary Institute of America to develop a cooking series, and the Smithsonian Institution. It recently sold its 15 millionth course.
Ed Leon, the senior vice president for product development, said customers for the courses, which range from less than $40 to several hundred dollars and come in video or audio formats, might be broadening their knowledge of a particular country in preparation for a trip, enhancing a job skill or simply expanding their minds.

“We have binge watchers like Netflix does,” he said, “and it’s a real badge of honor among some of our regulars to be the first to finish a new course.”

The extended-learning world grows more competitive all the time, with online colleges and iTunes entering the mix. The company tries to stay competitive with a production process that is more sophisticated than simply taping professors delivering their classroom lectures. Instead, the Great Courses staff comes up with ideas for courses, tests them out through surveys, then looks for a professor who can develop that course. A screen test might be involved, and, yes, sometimes a professor flunks.

“That’s always a difficult conversation,” Mr. Leon said.

The professors who do make the grade often need a little help to become camera-friendly.
“There have been times when we had to write ‘Breathe’ or ‘Pause’ under the cameras,” Marcy McDonald, senior director of content, said. One professor had the crew members tape pictures of people under the cameras, so he felt as if he were talking to someone.

And plenty of professors need to be told to stop swaying. “That’s the most common thing,” Ms. Reay said, "and the camera magnifies it.

In addition to professors who have to be purged of classroom habits that don’t work on screen, an increasing challenge for the Great Courses staff is professors who don’t know how to lecture at all. The “flipped classroom” model that is taking hold in academia — in-class time is devoted to hands-on activity rather than one-way instruction — means that some professors have little experience with organizing and delivering a traditional 30-minute talk.

“Now, fewer and fewer people lecture,” Ms. McDonald said. “That’s making it harder for us.”
A lot of the performance kinks are worked out in practice sessions, but the tapings are still a learning process at first. The filming is done with three cameras, so professors have to know which one to talk to, and when. Graphics, often elaborate, will be added in postproduction, so the professors also have to become accustomed to gesturing at something that isn’t there. Many work from a teleprompter, which also takes some getting used to. And there’s the clock.

“Rule No. 1 is, ‘Pause, pause, pause,’ and I’m looking at the clock and saying, ‘I can’t pause,’ ” Dr. Davis said after his first try, which he brought in at 35 minutes 34 seconds, a little long. Professors usually end up reshooting that first lecture after they have become more comfortable with the process, an adjustment Dr. Davis will certainly make: His course will ultimately consist of 36 half-hour lessons.

That same day, Paul Robbins, director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showed the benefit of experience, zipping through the 21st installment of his 24-lecture course on cultural and human geography in 29:48.

Developing a course of that length is a significant commitment, Dr. Robbins noted, and for the Great Courses audience, it requires shedding academic jargon.

“It means writing a textbook, and writing a really good textbook in plain language,” he said. “I’m thinking with a playwright’s hat rather than as a talking head.”

Not that the process lacks academic rigor. As the professors tape, staff members in a control room listen, and not in that zoned-out way you absorbed lectures when you were in school. They have to catch mispronunciations, garble, dropped words and more, so that the flubs can be fixed in postproduction. If the speaker leaves out a “not,” a law of physics can be radically altered.

For the lecturers, a Great Courses assignment pays off in royalties, which can stretch for years, since the courses stay in the catalog for some time. But there are also less tangible benefits.

“It had a transformative effect on me as a teacher,” said Jennifer Paxton, who teaches at the Catholic University of America and has recorded two history courses for the company and is working on a third. “One of the things they told me is that I should not hold back from really demonstrating the enthusiasm that I felt for the material. I think that, in a sense, I had drunk the academic Kool-Aid: You present something in a serious, sober manner.”

For instance, her Great Courses coaches encouraged her to demonstrate graphically what happened in a medieval battle.

“It was really like being unchained,” she said. “That experience was very profound. I came out and demonstrated the act of chopping the head off a horse. I had never done anything like that in lectures before.”

Robert Greenberg, by far the most prolific Great Courses instructor, with 618 lectures in the can, said that the course he was working on now would take him a year to develop, but that the effort pays off in front of cameras.

“The beauty of all that prep is, I walk into the studio, and that’s the fun part,” he said. “What is for some people the worst part, and that is the recording, is for me a great pleasure.”

-New  York Times:

Dr Who returns...older, more seasoned, higher production values...

On Actors, Acting and Union




    Being an actor is perhaps one of the most difficult ways to actually make a living. While there are actors who have forged full time careers in theater, commercials and convention work in cities coast to coast, the vast majority of work lies in Hollywood and New York City. 
    It may take one or several hundred non-paid auditions to land one day's work. An actor may work dozens of days a year or none at all.  Then too, there are the expensive classes necessary to keep up their skills; the cost of professional photographs, video and audiotape, of postage and time spent marketing themselves to potential employers. 
    Actor Paul Napier, whose credits include portraying the original Mr. Goodwrench, and who remains active on both the SAG and AFTRA boards of directors, tells of his children being asked by their teacher what their father did for a living. Their response was “audition”. 
    Casting Director and producer Donn Finn says of actors, “They are not acting for a living, they are acting for their craft. What they are doing for a living, besides waiting tables and taking 'day jobs', is auditioning. You might as well call them auditioners”. Finn went on to point out that each actor  "should think of themselves as their own little corporation," and part of the requirements to be a successful corporation is to join and participate in one or more professional actors unions. Finn is a casting partner in the office of Mali Finn Casting and is a professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at California State University in Fullerton. Recent casting credits include: Eight Mile, Phonebooth, Titanic, LA Confidential, Wonder Boys and The Matrix I,II, and III.
   Longtime SAG Board member Joe Ruskin, whose career includes appearances on the original "Star Trek" and many other television and film projects, states that, “Actors live in fear of rejection each and every day. If they are successful they fear it will end, if they are struggling they fear they will have to do something else for a living and give up a very important part of themselves”.
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics provide this description of the profession of acting:
Acting demands patience and total commitment, because there are often long periods of unemployment between jobs. While under contract, actors are frequently required to work long hours and travel. For stage actors, flawless performances require tedious memorizing of lines and repetitive rehearsals, and in television, actors must deliver a good performance with very little preparation. Actors need stamina to withstand hours under hot lights, heavy costumes and make-up, physically demanding tasks, long, irregular schedules, and the adverse weather and living conditions that may exist on location shoots. And actors face the constant anxiety of intermittent employment and regular rejections when auditioning for work.Yet in spite of these discouragements, the “passion to play,” as Shakespeare called it, still motivates many to make acting a professional career.
     Actors need to consider not only membership in one union, or even all performance unions, but also the overall market place in which they compete. There are estimates of four to as many as ten times that number of qualified non-union actors available in the same talent pool. Many times that number consider themselves “actors” and are free to compete for roles in the overall talent marketing. The standing joke in Los Angeles is that every waiter, store clerk, cop or even doctor is really an actor waiting for their break, writers who have yet to have scripts purchased or producers looking for financing.
   Actors make judgments and can be called on the carpet when they voice their opinions or present their art in ways that many in the public may disagree with. This is the nature of art, to mirror, to reflect, to comment on and to challenge the world around us.
  When on the set the hours are usually long, schedule less than ideal and locations uncomfortable and sometime dangerous. Depending on the production team, actors can be made to feel like cattle or like kings and queens. The environment changes from one job to the next.
   And then there is the lack of work. Mel Gibson, already a star, did not sleep the evening prior to the start of the filming of Lethal Weapon because of apprehension at not having been on a set for well over a year. 
   Actors may classify themselves as a social group, or into smaller sub-sets based on the specifics of how often they perform as actors (full time, part time, occasional, "wanna-be," community theater, hobbyist, has been). 
    Hollywood, and with it Greater Los Angeles, may be looked upon as a company town for the movie and entertainment industries and the 42nd Street / Broadway Great White Way area of New York a part of that city's identity and chemistry.  Actors play a key role in each of these company or trade settlements and how they make their livings effect the social interaction of these communities.
   By virtue of the demands of the craft, of the need to study and to observe, working or long-time actors tend to be educated, articulate and well read, defying a social stereotype presented in contemporary media.
   Acting is a key part of the larger social world of the entertainment industry, mass communications and leisure aspects of society as a whole. 
    Do not forget, if your quest to be an artist, that you are dependant on your fellow artists, on the other trade unionist who work in this industry and on the support of others for your own success and well being.
   Screen Actors Guild National Director of Education, former Performers Alliance founder Todd AmoreYaros. Rule One, which now states that union talent does not work nonunion, once spoke of an still echoes anther statement: that union actors work with, for and are in solidarity with their fellow performers, no mater what stature or place in the industry.
   Keep that in mind.

First published in 1998 by
Art Lynch, UNLV Dissertation

Updated on a regular basis since

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Auditioning for and taking union jobs is theft.

I looked around the waiting room of a SAG commercial casting the other day and, once again, found myself surrounded by non-union actors. Florida is a Right-to-Work (for less) state. One of many. We are outnumbered by at least 4 to 1 by a very savvy and talented pool of non-union actors who know that they can work our contracts, take up valuable staff time and resources, and make their bones without ever having to join.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Comunication in the Workplace

The maxim that "everyone should be treated with respect" does not mean that everyone should be treated in the same way. Due to cultural differences, personal preferences and individual perceptions, behaviors which may be acceptable to some will be offensive to others. A good example of this is direct eye contact, which may be interpreted in very different ways across different cultures. Looking another person in the eyes may be seen as a sign of open and honest communication in one culture, but in others, the same behavior can be seen as impolite, disrespectful, aggressive, and even threatening.

When introducing diversity to the already complex process of communication, it becomes much more complicated, but also a much richer experience—and opens a path to learning more about other cultures.

Get to know those whom you perceive to be different from you. Speak with them. Listen to them. Exchange perspectives. Ask them how they perceive you; tell them how you perceive them (tactfully); discuss those ways in which you are the same, think the same, feel the same. On those issues where you disagree, agree to disagree respectfully.
This may sound simple, but can actually be quite difficult for many of us. The keys to better understanding and acceptance, conflict resolution, inclusion and positive personal or professional inter-relationships all begin with open, effective communication.
Half the process of open, effective communication involves the active use of language. Some rules to remember for effective speaking, or writing include:
  • Use Respectful Language
  • Lower the Volume – vocally and verbally
  • Avoid Exaggeration
  • Do Not Use Dogmatic Language
  • Focus on "I" rather than "You"
    Use Respectful Language:

    This means to remain polite and professional, avoid interrupting the speaker or dominating the conversation. Do not engage in insulting or obscene remarks.
    Steer clear of name calling and emotionally charged words, like: racist, sexist, homophobe, man-hater. These only serve to make the target of the language defensive and angry, causing the impact of the message to be lost or, at best, weakened. If the other person is using offensive language and name-calling, avoid sinking to his or her level.
Often, when abusive language occurs on campus, those involved or aware of it either minimize its harmful nature or attempt to place the blame elsewhere. This is often the case when the language is meant to be humorous. There is a temptation to believe that we are not guilty of offensive behavior because we do not initiate it, or because those who are being demeaned are not present. An honest appraisal of our own actions, however, may suggest otherwise.

Collusion is cooperation with others, intentionally or unintentionally, to reinforce stereotypical attitudes and biases, or disrespectful, harmful language. There are three types of collusion:
  • Silence. It may seem harmless, but it can reinforce stereotyping, lack of value for diversity, and lack of respect for individuals or groups.
  • Denial. Providing an excuse, not only for the person engaging in the offensive behavior, but also for ourselves, so we may avoid the discomfort of expressing disapproval.(Example: "She doesn't mean anything by it." "It's only a joke.")
  • Active participation. The most obvious and damaging type of collusion.

    Lower the Volume – vocally and verbally: Whether attempting to inform another why his words or actions were perceived as offensive; or responding to another's accusation that you behaved inappropriately; or just asking for, or providing, clarification of a differing viewpoint, it is best to avoid raising your voice or the intensity of your words. Shouting and becoming emotionally agitated during a conversation may appear aggressive, arrogant or irrational to those listening. It often provides the listener with a reason to "shut out" what is being said, or shouted.

    When we are personally or emotionally invested in the topic being discussed, it is sometimes difficult to control our tone and volume, as well as our words. But, as difficult as it may be, controlling how we present our message is essential to getting listeners to respond to what we are saying rather than how we are saying it. Ask yourself: "When I feel personally attacked by someone's shouting, sarcasm or insults, do I listen to what they are saying, or do I try and think of ways to defend myself?" Speaking loudly or angrily is viewed as threatening to most people, often causing them to respond in the same unproductive manner.

    Avoid Exaggeration: Exaggeration is when we distort the reality of a situation by overstating, or intensifying the facts.

    For example:
    "You ALWAYS exclude me from ANY decision making process!"
    "Can't you, for ONCE, just listen to what I have to say?"
    "If it were up to you, there wouldn't be a person of color employed in the entire organization!"
    "You NEVER consider ANYTHING suggested by a woman!"
    "The ONLY thing your religion teaches you is how to hate!"
    These types of comments make it very easy for the object of the tirade to ignore the statements as absurd. Such exaggerations can often be disproved with just one example to the contrary and therefore not worth considering. Sticking to facts and specific examples go a lot further in getting the attention of the person you want to engage in a discussion. 

  • Consider the different impact each of the following comments may have on the person being addressed:
    "You NEVER consider ANYTHING suggested by a woman!"


    "You didn't even acknowledge Marta's suggestion regarding the database, though it was an excellent one. Ms. Humber's recommendation for the schedule change was ignored until the same idea was expressed by Mr. Wilfred – then it was implemented. And now you won't allow me to even present my marketing idea to the committee, but you can't give me a good reason for that decision. It seems to me that women in this department are being marginalized. I believe that is intentional and I'd like to hear your response." 

  • Do Not Use Dogmatic Language: This means to avoid statements such as:
    "I've always been taught that…"; "It's in the Bible"; "It's the American way." "Science has shown that . . . " or "It's the law."
    These comments do not go far in supporting most arguments, and may even be offensive if the individual the comment is directed to is of a different religion, culture, social background, country, or has the opinion that laws and/or science are often used to support and encourage discriminatory behaviors.

  • Quoted "authorities" such as the Law, the Bible, and science often have more than one interpretation, or are credited with proving a point not actually supported by the statement. For instance:
  • Quoting scientific data that women, as a group, have less muscle mass than men does not support an argument that a woman cannot perform as well as a man in a particular physical job.
  • Stating that America was founded by Christians does not support an argument that Muslims should not hold office or executive positions in the United States.
  • Referencing the fact that the constitution guarantees free speech is not a valid argument to justify name-calling directed at co-workers.
  • Pointing out issues regarding illegal immigration does not justify harsh attitudes toward foreign-born individuals who legally reside in this country
There are more effective ways to communicate. When a disagreement arises, try to analyze your own feelings and the personal biases which may contribute to them. Then attempt to be equally open to recognizing the life experiences which may have brought the other person to the position he or she holds. Finally, look for common ground. It isn't necessary that you agree on all points, just so you respect each other's differences and attempt to find a fair resolution to any present conflict.

Focus on "I" rather than "You": It is usually much more effective to tell another person how you feel about a comment, behavior or situation than to confront that person with why his or her actions or language (as you perceive them) are incorrect or offensive.

 For example:
"I just don't believe that" instead of "That's a lie!"
"I was offended by that statement" instead of "You are rude and insulting."
"I feel that my input is being ignored" rather than "You people just can't accept that someone of my age (race, position, education level . . .) may have something worthwhile to contribute, can you?”

Perhaps one way to avoid focusing on the other person's behavior is to attempt to remove the word "you" or "your" from assertive comments. Which of the following would most people prefer to hear when having their supervisor hand back a report they've submitted?

  • "This report needs several corrections before I can send it to the Board." or
  • "You made a lot of mistakes in this report and you had better fix them. I can't send this mess you've written to the Board."
We probably all agree that the first example would be better received and probably result in less conflict, less defensiveness and a more productive completion of the task.

Effective Listening

Practicing effective speaking skills is just one half of the process of improving communication. The other side of the coin is effective listening.

Listening attentively is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced. It does not come easily. Often we try to interpret the speaker's message based on our own perceptions and expectations instead of being open to the true meaning and intent of the speaker.

Some rules of effective listening are:
  • Really listen. Stay present, in the moment.
  • Listen for the emotions as much as the words.
  • Do not allow anger or defensiveness to interfere with listening.

    Really listen. Stay present, in the moment. Try to focus on the speaker's words, without interruptions or defensiveness. Give it your undivided attention and try to suspend judgment in an attempt to understand the speaker's message. If you are too busy preparing what you will say next, you will not truly hear what is being said.
    Are you distracted by the way the person looks, sounds, or dresses? Do you think the person is less knowledgeable about the topic because of his/her culture or ethnicity? Are you silently criticizing the speaker's accent, voice or manner of speech? Are you allowing your own biases to interpret meaning or intent which the speaker does not mean to convey?
    When you avoid traps like these, you can start to hear the true words and meaning of what is being said.
Listen for the emotions as much as the words. Try to understand the speaker's thoughts and feelings. Carefully restate or paraphrase what the speaker has said in a way that lets the individual know that you are really listening and trying to get the full meaning of what is being said. This also gives the other person an opportunity to correct misunderstandings before they seriously disrupt the communication process.
Often the true message of what a speaker is saying comes from the emotions behind the words. Imagine the speaker's intent and ask questions to help both of you obtain a clearer understanding of any underlying issues. Attentively listening for the whole message, spoken and unspoken, will enhance the communication process for all parties.

Do not allow anger or defensiveness to interfere with listening. Preconceived ideas may make us react initially with anger or frustration. When this is the case, we are not really hearing what the speaker is trying to say. A listener's emotional reaction is counterproductive to effective listening.

As discussed earlier, this reaction might be more about the listener's sensitivities than what the speaker actually intended. If a person says something that seems derogatory or inflammatory, make sure you understood the person clearly before getting angry. Try to understand (not necessarily agree with) his perspective.
Even if the other individual intended his comments to be insulting, you can be the better person by accepting his emotional state and attempting to steer the conversation to an area of common ground, hopefully resulting in a more respectful exchange of ideas.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is unavoidable. In the work place or educational setting, especially, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in any such environment there will be both healthy and unhealthy conflict.
Healthy debate among diverse members of a team frequently leads to better strategies, perspectives and problem solving. This type of interchange should be encouraged as it provides opportunities for team members to challenge their own viewpoints while also challenging the team to stretch its potential and find more ways to excel.

Unhealthy, or destructive, conflict is divisive, interferes with the ability to succeed as a team, and can be demeaning and abusive towards groups or individuals. This type of conflict is characterized by getting off task and into the realm of personal attacks, interruptions, emotional outbursts, finger-pointing, and an inability or unwillingness for either side of the conflict to understand or concede an inch of ground to the other.

All too often, unhealthy conflicts are side-stepped or swept under the rug instead of addressed head on, especially if they are a result of uncomfortable situations involving a clash of cultures or diverse perspectives. Often unresolved conflict may appear to fade away, but is actually churning just under the surface, ready to explode in even more destructive ways. For this reason, you should not avoid an opportunity to openly discuss a situation because you fear it will lead to a confrontation. Sometimes confrontation is the best way to achieve understanding and promote cooperation.

Conflict Resolution

Guidelines for controlling destructive conflicts include:
  • Sit down together with the stated purpose of clearing the air and improving relationships.
  • Allow one person to speak at a time.
  • No personal attacks or attempts to speak for others.
  • Keep emotions to a minimum.
  • Give each participant an uninterrupted opportunity to share viewpoints, experience or understanding with others.
When you believe an associate's comments or behaviors are inappropriate, address it calmly and non-confrontationally. Be specific about what you'd like to have happen in the future.

For example:
"I understand you told the Vice President that my current personal situation is interfering with my ability to manage this project. I don't feel it is anyone's place but my own to discuss my personal life. In the future, if you think it is necessary to do so, please address your concerns to me personally, or, if you believe there is a legitimate need to discuss my personal life with others, I would expect to be included in that conversation."

Agree to Dissagree..Agree to listen..Agree to understand...Do no harm.

1. Agree to disagree. Do not take the opinions of others personally. Realize they have a vested interests in believing what they believe. Do try to get into productive discourse and to educate, but be open to learning as you do so.
2. Agree to listen. Listening is the most important communication and critical thinking skill, yet is it rapidly becoming he weakest. You need to really listen, not just sit and hear someone go on and on and repeat memorized or internalized tracts. Listen for what is underneath what they are saying. Look for the value, truths and lessons in what they say. Also listen to understand the views of others as you prepare persuasive discourse yourself.
3. Agree to understand. This includes understanding time restraints (for a teacher class time and number of speakers, amount that must be covered in a term and so on), physical limitations, the full demographics and psychographics of other individuals or groups, possible painful personal beliefs or experience behind their beliefs, that if you look underneath the surface you may find you agree more than you think, that everyone has different life expediences and above all (for students) that this is only a class.
4. Do no harm. Never intentionally harm another person with your words or actions. There is no faster way to shut down communication and progress than causing harm or the threat of harm. The word intentional is important, as we should not let a fear of offense or harm keep us from advancing legitimate arguments or exploring the envelope in the name of growth and understanding.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Think you multitask well..Think again


The Brain Is Wired to Focus on Just One Thing; Which Tasks Are Easier to Combine

Melinda Beck on Lunch Break looks at the "cocktail party effect," in which people are able to focus on one conversation while being aware of conversations going on around them. Researchers say we can train our brains to maximize this kind of awareness.

You're at a party. Music is playing. Glasses are clinking. Dozens of conversations are driving up the decibel level. Yet amid all those distractions, you can zero in on the one conversation you want to hear.
This ability to hyper-focus on one stream of sound amid a cacophony of others is what researchers call the "cocktail-party effect." Now, scientists at the University of California in San Francisco have pinpointed where that sound-editing process occurs in the brain—in the auditory cortex just behind the ear, not in areas of higher thought. The auditory cortex boosts some sounds and turns down others so that when the signal reaches the higher brain, "it's as if only one person was speaking alone," says principle investigator Edward Chang.

These findings, published in the journal Nature last week, underscore why people aren't very good at multitasking—our brains are wired for "selective attention" and can focus on only one thing at a time. That innate ability has helped humans survive in a world buzzing with visual and auditory stimulation. But we keep trying to push the limits with multitasking, sometimes with tragic consequences. Drivers talking on cellphones, for example, are four times as likely to get into traffic accidents as those who aren't.

Many of those accidents are due to "inattentional blindness," in which people can, in effect, turn a blind eye to things they aren't focusing on. Images land on our retinas and are either boosted or played down in the visual cortex before being passed to the brain, just as the auditory cortex filters sounds, as shown in the Nature study last week. "It's a push-pull relationship—the more we focus on one thing, the less we can focus on others," says Diane M. Beck, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois.

That people can be completely oblivious to things in their field of vision was demonstrated famously in the "Invisible Gorilla experiment" devised at Harvard in the 1990s. Observers are shown a short video of youths tossing a basketball and asked to count how often the ball is passed by those wearing white. Afterward, the observers are asked several questions, including, "Did you see the gorilla?" Typically, about half the observers failed to notice that someone in a gorilla suit walked through the scene.

They're usually flabbergasted because they're certain they would have noticed something like that.
"We largely see what we expect to see," says Daniel Simons, one of the study's creators and now a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. As he notes in his subsequent book, "The Invisible Gorilla" (co-authored with Christopher Chabris), the more attention a task demands, the less attention we can pay to other things in our field of vision. That's why pilots sometimes fail to notice obstacles on runways and radiologists may overlook anomalies on X-rays, especially in areas they aren't scrutinizing.

And it isn't just that sights and sounds compete for the brain's attention. All the sensory inputs vie to become the mind's top priority.

That's the real danger of distracted driving, experts say. "You regularly hear people say as long as your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road, you're fine. But that's not true," Mr. Simons says.


The percentage of people who can multitask efficiently is fewer than three in one hundred, actually lower than 2.5% . Many more people only think they can.

Studies over the past decade at the University of Utah show that drivers talking on hands-free cellphones are just as impaired as those on hands-held phones because it is the conversation, not the device, that is draining their attention. Those talking on any kind of cellphone react more slowly and miss more traffic signals than other motorists.

"Even though your eyes are looking right at something, when you are on the cellphone, you are not as likely to see it," says David Strayer, a psychology professor and lead researcher. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's not that critical, but that 1% could be the time a child runs into the street," he adds.
Dr. Strayer's studies have also found that talking on a cellphone is far more distracting than conversing with a passenger—since a passenger can see the same traffic hazards and doesn't expect a steady stream of conversation as someone on a cellphone does. Listening to the radio, to music or to a book on tape also isn't as distracting, because it doesn't require the same level of interaction as a conversation. But Mr. Simons notes that even drivers may miss some details of a book on tape if their attention is focused on merging or other complex driving tasks.

Some people can train themselves to pay extra attention to things that are important—like police officers learn to scan crowds for faces and conductors can listen for individual instruments within the orchestra as a whole.

[HEALTHCOLjp] Getty Images
Multitasking may cause cognitive depletion, while 'unplugging' has restorative properties, based on early research.

And the Utah researchers have identified a rare group of "super-taskers"—as estimated 2.5% of the population—who seem able to attend to more than one thing with ease.

Many more people think they can effectively multitask, but they are really shifting their attention rapidly between two things and not getting the full effect of either, experts say.

Indeed, some college professors have barred students from bringing laptop computers to their classrooms, even ostensibly to take notes. Dr. Beck says she was surprised to find that some of her students were on Facebook during her lectures—even though the course was about selective attention.
Still, she doesn't plan to crack down. "I just explained that doing Facebook in class means you will not learn as much, which will have consequences on the exam," she says.

Clearly, it is easier to combine some tasks than others. "Not all distractions are the same," says Dr. Strayer. Things like knitting, cleaning and working out can be done automatically while the mind is engaged elsewhere. But doing homework and texting simultaneously isn't possible. (Sorry, kids).
Even conversing and watching TV is difficult. "Just try conversing with your wife while watching football. It's impossible," jokes Mr. Simons.
PAY ATTENTION | How to stay in the zone
Recognize your limitations. The brain can only fully attend to one thing at a time.

Make your senses work together. If you're trying to listen to someone in a noisy room, look directly at the speaker.

Focus on what's important. Many professions—from pilots to police officers—depend on keen powers of observation. Training and practice help. But experts say things like chess and videogames likely won't expand your overall attention skills.

Allocate blocks of time to specific tasks. Sometimes a deadline can force people to focus.

Avoid distracted driving. Don't talk on a cellphone, text or give voice commands while at the wheel.

Write to Melinda Beck at

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Judgement Time

We live in a time of personal attack.

We live in a time where it is funny or fun to make fun of others and attack or give negative stereotypes without understanding and with a trendy mean spiritedness.

Yet the PC police are out in full force, and attacks on those they disagree with made in the name of being fair and respectful of others.

We live in a time when information is instant and judgment even faster.

This is the most difficult time for students, and on a broader scale for all of us in society. The pressure is on, stress levels high and anxiety through the roof.

Remember you are not alone and that while you may be graded you are not being judged to the core of your being or worth. No one can do that but yourself, and is it worth it? Move forward. Build confidence. Trust in who you are and what you can do. Build on what you have and work toward who you wish to become.

Aptitudes differ but all have value, as long as those with an aptitude do not use it to belittle others. I will use my own failings as an example, however each of you can and are invited to come up with your own list and post it.

I am an actor, a voice artists and student of others. Listening skills and tollerance should come with these, but in far too many the tendency to judge, attack or jump to conclusions dominates who have the potential to be much more than they are. Ego and a need to feel superior keeps them from their full potential as mirrors to life, portayers of others, entertainers and artists.

I am a professional writer and a communication professor. Due to many things, including the education track system that existed when I was very young, my mind racing ahead of others, and my ear hearing with a Chicago accent, my spelling skills are not perfect. Computers help but not as much as people think, because they make assumptions and if you let them will auto-correct to the wrong word or meaning. In addition, I write as we speak. In other words I believe language is fluid, changing and can reflect the reality of its now, not strict guidelines. All of these lead some to lower their view of me based on what to them seems second nature.

Some people learn other languages with little difficulty. I have tried hard on Spanish and German, with only limited success in reading and writing and next to none in being able to speak the languages.

To a computer programmer the things to do if your computer is not doing what you expect or need it to seem intrinsic, second nature and easy. The rest of us they may seem difficult if not impossible. What is one man’s logic or ‘you should know that” moment is another’s impassable wall. The Mac vs. PC argument centers on how use you are to the extra steps, language of and limitations of a PC, or how you may or may not feel superior for having one operating system versus another. It is a feeling of being better than others, using what you can turn into their faults or limitations (whether or not these really are limitations).

I was the kid who was not picked for teams because for a reason I do not care to reveal I was less coordinated and an only child, so less socialized than the other children. Coaches belittled me and lowered my self-esteem as a motivation example for others. To those who had natural talents or were praise instead of belittled, understanding those of us on the other side of the physical fitness universe is impossible and belittling us is often second nature.

Why do we continue to judge others as lesser than ourselves? Poor people with little opportunity, whether they are in a war zone and wearing head wraps of one type or another, have different skin tone or eyes, or simply play in the dust and dirt, are seen as less intelligent, as ignorant or as unable to help themselves. Why? Because we judge others in relation to ourselves and all too often to make us feel superior.

I know my limitations and my strengths. I teach college and coach children, in acting and communication. I have been a youth minister, choir director, theater and film director, and will always be an actor, performer, artist and friend.

I am a prolific writer, teacher and at times a leader.

I earned awards by turning out product as a journalist quickly and accurately, in factual content and observation. I never won a spelling bee or baseball game. I do not slave over words; they come as easily as walking. But there are those who attack me for my spelling, my limited dress (a function of finances and being raised by depression era parent and grandparents), my weight (hypothyroid and a non-athletic lifestyle for the reasons indicated earlier).

Why not dress right? Why not take the time to spell check (I do, but if I did it to the point of perfection I would be less of a teacher, and far from current in my writings)? How can you be so “overweight” when it is easy to lose weight (again is it easy if you were of the same physiology and background as I am)?

I am not moaning or complaining about life, although it could be seen that way if you choose to see yourself as superior to me. I am pointing on how we judge to make ourselves feel better than others, or we dwell on our own shortcomings to give us an excuse for not going for the brass reign.

Everyone who reads this has strengths, weaknesses, handicaps of some sort and silver spoons in other ways.

Accept others for their strengths.

Praise them.

Use each other in mutually beneficial ways, in the spirit of friendship and shared goals, instead of finding ways to criticize, attack or make yourself feel artificially superior.

There but for the will of God go I.

And one more thing. Feel pride in what you can do without feeling superior. This missive took fifteen minutes to pen, proof and post.

Of course there are mistakes. But the thoughts are out there and there is much more to do in life than blog or post on blogs.

The important thing is the thoughts are out there for you to read and if you choose to, respond.

First posted 11-17-2009

Really listen

Listening to others

MIKE PNIEWSKI “Effective listening inspires great teamwork. Great teamwork breeds great success. Don’t be so single-minded with your ideas that you don’t hear the message of others. Real change only comes when you allow it to happen. Really listen to what others say and allow yourself to be changed for the better.” 
Mike Pniewski, from “When Life Gives You Lemons, Throw ‘Em Back!”

Communication in Decision Making

At its best, discussion deepens understanding and promotes problem solving and decision making. At its worst, it frays nerves, creates animosity, and leaves important issues unresolved. Unfortunately, the most prominent models for discussion in contemporary culture—radio and TV talk shows—often produce the latter effects.

Many hosts demand that their guests answer complex questions with simple “yes” or “no” answers. If the guests respond that way, they are attacked for oversimplifying. If, instead, they try to offer a balanced answer, the host shouts, “You’re not answering the question,” and proceeds to answer it himself. Guests who agree with the host are treated warmly; others are dismissed as ignorant or dishonest. As often as not, when two guests are debating, each takes a turn interrupting while the other shouts, “Let me finish.” Neither shows any desire to learn from the other. Typically, as the show draws to a close, the host thanks the participants for a “vigorous debate” and promises the audience more of the same next time.

Here are some simple guidelines for ensuring that the discussions you engage in—in the classroom, on the job, or at home—are more civil, meaningful, and productive than what you see on TV. By following these guidelines, you will set a good example for the people around you.

Whenever Possible, Prepare in Advance


Not every discussion can be prepared for in advance, but many can. An agenda is usually circulated several days before a business or committee meeting. And in college courses, the assignment schedule provides a reliable indication of what will be discussed in class on a given day. Use this advance information to prepare for discussion. Begin by reflecting on what you already know about the topic. 

Then decide how you can expand your knowledge and devote some time to doing so. (Fifteen or 20 minutes of focused searching on the Internet can produce a significant amount of information on almost any subject.) Finally, try to anticipate the different points of view that might be expressed in the discussion, and consider the relative merits of each. Keep your conclusions very tentative at this point so that you will be open to the facts and interpretations others will present.

Set Reasonable Expectations


Have you ever left a discussion disappointed that others hadn’t abandoned their views and embraced yours? Have you ever felt offended when someone disagreed with you or asked you what evidence you had to support your opinion? If the answer to either question is yes, you probably expect too much of others. People seldom change their minds easily or quickly, particularly in the case of long-held convictions. And when they encounter ideas that differ from their own, they naturally want to know what evidence supports those ideas. Expect to have your ideas questioned, and be cheerful and gracious in responding.

Leave Egotism and Personal Agendas at the Door


To be productive, discussion requires an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility. Egotism produces disrespectful attitudes toward others—notably, “I’m more important than other people,” “My ideas are better than anyone else’s,” and “Rules don’t apply to me.” Personal agendas, such as dislike for another participant or excessive zeal for a point of view, can lead to personal attacks and unwillingness to listen to others’ views.

Contribute But Don’t Dominate


If you are the kind of person who loves to talk and has a lot to say, you probably contribute more to discussions than other participants. On the other hand, if you are more reserved, you may seldom say anything. There is nothing wrong with being either kind of person. However, discussions tend to be most productive when everyone contributes ideas. For this to happen, loquacious people need to exercise a little restraint, and more reserved people need to accept responsibility for sharing their thoughts.

Avoid Distracting Speech Mannerisms


Such mannerisms include starting one sentence and then abruptly switching to another, mumbling or slurring your words, and punctuating every phrase or clause with audible pauses (“um,” “ah,”) or meaningless expressions (“like,” “you know,” “man”). These annoying mannerisms distract people from your message. To overcome them, listen to yourself when you speak. Even better, tape your conversations with friends and family (with their permission), then play the tape back and listen to yourself. And whenever you are engaged in a discussion, aim for clarity, directness, and economy of expression.

Listen Actively


When the participants don’t listen to one another, discussion becomes little more than serial monologue—each person taking a turn at speaking while the rest ignore what is being said. This can happen quite unintentionally because the mind can process ideas faster than the fastest speaker can deliver them. Your mind may get tired of waiting and wander about aimlessly like a dog off its leash. In such cases, instead of listening to what is being said, you may think about the speaker’s clothing or hairstyle or look outside the window and observe what is happening there. Even when you are making a serious effort to listen, it is easy to lose focus. If the speaker’s words trigger an unrelated memory, you may slip away to that earlier time and place. If the speaker says something you disagree with, you may begin framing a reply. The best way to maintain your attention is to be alert for such distractions and to resist them. Strive to enter the speaker’s frame of mind and understand each sentence as it is spoken and to connect it with previous sentences. Whenever you realize your mind is wandering, drag it back to the task.

Judge Ideas Responsibly


Ideas range in quality from profound to ridiculous, helpful to harmful, ennobling to degrading. It is therefore appropriate to pass judgment on them. However, fairness demands that you base your judgment on thoughtful consideration of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the ideas, not on your initial impressions or feelings. Be especially careful with ideas that are unfamiliar or different from your own because those are the ones you will be most inclined to deny a fair hearing.

Resist the Urge to Shout or Interrupt


No doubt you understand that shouting and interrupting are rude and disrespectful behaviors, but do you realize that in many cases they are also a sign of intellectual insecurity? It’s true. If you really believe your ideas are sound, you will have no need to raise your voice or to silence the other person. Even if the other person resorts to such behavior, the best way to demonstrate confidence and character is by refusing to reciprocate. Make it your rule to disagree without being disagreeable.