Tag Archives: psychology

Randy Pausch: the Last Lecture

This is a video that I can categorically say has changed my life for the better.

I will never forget when I first watched this video 10 years ago during my final year of university. Watching this talk was the first time I had ever really thought about what I wanted my adult life to be like and the specific things that I had always wanted to do.

Until that point, it was all pretty vague and there was a rough list of goals, but I had never put any intention into discovering and planning them in a systematic manner.

Dr Randy Pausch was a Professor of Computer Science and specialist in Virtual Reality at Carnegie Mellon University.

The university organised a series of lectures, setting speakers the task of presenting what they thought was the most vital wisdom that they would confer if they only had one last lecture to give before they died.

However, before his lecture, Dr Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, in a case of life imitating art, the hypothetical became real.

What follows is Dr Pausch’s touching talk, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, posted below.

It is full of wisdom, humour, and kindness. Some great learning points in there include:

  • “head fake” = teaching kids one thing secretly by actually getting them to learn something else (i.e. learn teamwork and perseverance by playing sports)
  • “Brick walls are there to how much you really want it.”
  • “Loyalty is a two-way street.”
  • For women: “When it comes to men that are romantically interested in you, it’s simple. Just ignore everything they say and watch everything they do.”
  • “Don’t bail; the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap.”
  • “Don’t complain; just work harder.”

Causes to support in memory of Dr Pausch:

You can also buy a copy of his book, the Last Lecture, on Amazon.

Oh! I must be a #linkybrain

#Linkybrain #Linkybrains

#linkybrains — it all started with this post by Doug Scott, then this enlightening piece by Chris Tottman, and this by Alex Dunsdon.

The virality of this conversation across LinkedIn and Medium shows how deeply the concept has resonated with people.

And I can understand why.

Most of Chris Tottman’s points struck close to home for me.

I’ll briefly pull out a couple before hitting my own confession.

# 1. Extended or Semi-permanent Adolescence

My curiosity and dislike of the well-trodden path mean that I am averse to the idea of a job for life and all the trappings of it.

#3. High Creative Output

I am brimming with new ideas and always have some form of personal project on the go. However, I’ve got to get better at completing and monetising them!

#4. Own Boss

I have a deep-seated need for control of my work and life in general. Autonomy and freedom are key tenets of my life.

#7. Restless – prone to multiple careers, verticals and j curves

I am always looking at the next thing. Honing this instinct and forcing myself to finish tasks before the next one has been a key project of recent years.

#10. Outsider

Yes. My distrust of the herd mentality folly runs deep.

#15. Obsessive Nature

When I find a problem that captivates me. I can’t let it go. I’ve got solutions to problems that have been bubbling away on the stove for a decade.


So, it’s time for my very own #linkybrain confession:

  1. My curiosity is like a black hole, slowly pulling everything in the universe towards it.
  2. I AM ALWAYS DAYDREAMING.
  3. I see problems, and therefore opportunities, e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.
  4. I am unsatisfied with my achievements to date, even though people advise me otherwise.
  5. A stable job doing the same thing for life is my own version of hell.
  6. If I am not working on something risky, new, and potentially world-changing, I lose interest almost immediately.
  7. I am a voracious reader.
  8. Many people have told me that I am the hardest person on myself that they have ever met.
  9. I cannot stop having new ideas. The flow is relentless.
  10. I work best in an empty room in silence. Libraries are my heaven.
  11. I am both an introvert and extrovert.
  12. My desire to empathise with other people means that I can see and hold multiple viewpoints at once. This can often make it confusing to choose a side of the argument or make a decision.
  13. Inefficiencies and illogical legacy issues enfuriate me.
  14. Deep down I feel I can do anything (except give birth, obvs).
  15. All conversations with me will drift towards the deep and meaningful if left unchecked.
  16. People who are not altruistic scare me.
  17. I will never understand how people cannot be curious.
  18. Historically I left many projects unfinished.
  19. I frequently wonder whether I’m working on the wrong project or if I will ever finish anything.
  20. I instinctively distrust something that is trending. (Yes, even this #linkybrains fiasco!).
  21. My mind is a battleground in the war against perfectionism.
  22. I believe there is no such thing as a bored person, only a boring one.

From time to time I publish new business and product ideas on my blog, davidjohnkaye.com. Here is a little list of the ones so far.

Idea: Social Impact Bonds for mental health

The case for improved mental health services

The consequences of poor mental health on human well-being are becoming more widely understood, as are their impacts on other areas of society such as use of drugs, violence, lack of productivity, obesity, lack of creativity, unemployment, smoking and other addictions. Improvements in mental health can cause a cascade of positive multiplier effects throughout society.

Social Impact Bonds as a concept

As noted in my recent post on tackling homelessness, I am fascinated by the potential of Social Impact Bonds to help drive positive social change.

One idea that really resonates with me is the use of Social Impact Bonds to drive positive change in people’s mental health.

Inspiration for the idea

I was inspired by the potential for improvements years ago after reading Healing Without Freud or Prozac by the late Dr David Servan-Schreiber (which was once lent to me by the late Ismena Clout).

In the book, Dr Servan-Schreiber talks about combatting depression with the following:

  1. Meditation and heart coherence
  2. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
  3. Maximising exposure to natural light
  4. Acupuncture
  5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  6. Exercise
  7. Social Interaction and Emotional Communication

Most of these activities can be undertaken by a beneficiary without any qualified medical assistance, which made me think that this would be an ideal area for a for-profit company or social enterprise to provide a service that would support sufferers of depression.

Indeed, people like Tony Robbins have companies focussed on this area with many of these areas being employed.

However, with Tony Robbins, the emphasis is on the beneficiary directly paying for services themselves. This means that many people that are not currently in a financial position to access the services can benefit.

Use of Social Impact Bonds to reward positive outcomes

What if a company or social enterprise could provide beneficiaries with all the benefits of this approach at no cost at the point of use but instead could be rewarded by a government or health service for delivering the beneficial outcomes?

I drafted this paper below on the back of the idea that Social Impact Bonds could be used to reward social enterprises for just this:

Concept Paper_ Social Impact Bonds for Improved Mental Health

Originally I designed this business so that it could be implemented by a Tony Robbins company because I am a big fan of the work they do to help people achieve transformational change in their lives. However, it could be undertaken by any organisation with a mission to help people make positive change in their own lives.

Below is a diagram explaining the value flows in the concept (note in this diagram I referred to beneficiaries as “patients”, which is not a terminology that I would use anymore):

Diagram: Social Impact Bonds for Mental Health

Risks and risk management

One major risk of this approach is that it could contribute to “privatisation of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) by stealth”, with private sector organisations slicing off more and more of the NHS’ workload and sweating the assets for profit in the way that UK train franchises have done.

This could be mitigated by the fact that a lot of these activities are things that can be undertaken by individuals without any form of medical intervention, such as regular exercise, socialising, and improved diet. Therefore these would fall outside of current NHS services and would carry a low risk of this.

Another challenge is whether or not the activities would count as, or have the perception of, being medical treatment and therefore need to be regulated.

For the same reasons above, I think a strong argument could be made that this is not the case. Effective protocols that signpost beneficiaries to NHS services should be in-built so that the NHS and other authorities can have confidence that the social enterprise is not masquerading as a healthcare provider, but a “wellbeing-support provider”.

UK Government support

It’s interesting to see that the UK Government also sees the potential for Social Impact Bonds to stimulate change, as they have launched an Inclusive Economy initiative that includes a funding stream for Social Impact Bonds.

Contact me to discuss

I’d welcome any contact via my contact page from anyone interested in starting a social enterprise in this field. I’d be happy to share my ideas for potential methodologies that exist for the service, as well as potential funding streams to launch a pilot project.

GRASP: Getting Results and Solving Problems

What is GRASP?

I recently stumbled across a great framework called GRASP: Getting Results and Solving Problems.

It’s from the Comino Foundation, a foundation set up to support innovation practice. It was set up by Demetrius “Dimitri” Comino, a Greek-Australian engineer and entrepreneur that founded Dexion after settling in the UK post-university. There’s a great biography including a history of his businesses and foundation available here.

The framework can also apparently be referred to as: Getting Results and Seizing Potential  “because it became most effective in helping people to achieve their full potential” according to the Foundation.

How does it work?

Here are the steps as described on the Foundation’s website:

  1. Define your purpose in terms of what you want to achieve
    • NB. Not what you want to do!
  2. When defining purpose, keep asking the question ‘Why?’
    • Ask “What do I really want to achieve?”
  3. Imagine in detail how it will be when you have succeeded
    • Use this picture of success to establish the criteria by which you will know if you have succeeded.
  4. Examine alternative means by which the desired result might be achieved
    • Never allow yourself to think that there is only one way to succeed.
  5. Choose what seems to be the best option and make a plan.
  6. Carry through your chosen plan.
  7. Repeat the process to see if you can do better or have redefined your purpose, which often happens.
  8. Review the process at each stage.

Comments on the framework

I really like this framework as it includes several key tools.

Firstly, the use of Why? is drilling down past our pre-conceived notions and limiting beliefs in the same way as the Five Whys methodology.

Secondly, it is goal focus and not activity focused. This primes us to discard our limited thinking to date and to consider the most efficient way possible to get to our goals.

Thirdly, it contains an element of measurement which is key for the successful completion of any plan.

Finally, the use of visualisation not only makes it real but allows us to actually understand what the goal will feel like when we have achieved it. This useful for motivation, but it is also useful when we take into consideration which of our 6 Human Needs it is actually helping us achieve. This deeper understanding will help us to get closer to what we really need to achieve in order to satisfy our core needs.

My version

I’ve created my own version which reads:

  1. What do I want to achieve?
    • Why?
  2. Visualise in detail the completed goal.
    • Use this vision to establish the success criteria.
  3. Examine alternative means to achieve the desired result.
    • There is always another way!
  4. Choose the best option and make a plan.
  5. Execute.
  6. Repeat.

Download template

You can also download my version of their questions in a handy PDF template here:

GRASP Getting Results and Solving Problems template.

Secret Facebook experiment on users – do emotions spread through networks?

According to this article on Slate, Facebook secretly conducted a psychological experiment on around 689,000 users to see if emotions can be transmitted through social networks. This is an awesome experiment, but some deem it unethical as users did not explicitly give permission for this to happen.

What was the experiment?

The phenomenon of emotional states passing from person to person, known as “emotional contagion“, is a by-product of human empathy in relationships and is discussed extensively in academic literature. However, it had been believed that in-person interactions and non-verbal cues were essential for the transfer of an emotional state from person to person.

This experiment sought to test whether in fact emotions could be transmitted from person to person through their networks, solely via the medium of a written update viewed on a user’s Facebook News Feed page. On Facebook, the constant stream of status updates provides too many for users to see them all, so Mark Zuckerberg’s engineers designed an algorithm that allows the News Feed to filter, select and display status updates that it believes are the most relevant and interesting for the user.

The investigators in this experiment worked with Facebook’s Core Data Science team to modify the algorithm. A group of people saw more emotionally positive updates than usual, some saw more negatively emotional updates, and some saw fewer updates of an emotional content. The status updates of the user themselves were then observed over the next few days to analyse their emotional content in order to investigate whether or not their was a correlation.

Intriguingly, the researchers did indeed see that people were more positive or negative after seeing more positive or negative updates from their friends, and less emotional in general if the emotional content of their News Feed was reduced. The effects were small but measurable and statistically significant.

What’s the problem?

Experiments on human test subjects can sometimes result in physical or mental harm. For an experiment to be carried out in an ethical manner where the subjects know there is a possibility that some harm could arise, the scientists or experimenting agents need to gain “informed consent” from the subjects.

In this case, the permission was not explicitly given by the users for this to occur. Rather, it was taken as implicit from a short clause buried deep in Facebook’s Data Use Policy.

Of course, in an experiment where the investigators are testing whether people develop negative emotions if exposed to the negative emotions of others, this has serious consequences. Apart from the immediate pain that the users are unwittingly suffering from being exposed to more negativity than they would have otherwise experienced, there is the possibility that additional knock-on consequences may have occurred.

For example, the users might have been in a mentally fragile state at the time of using Facebook. The increased negativity may have caused a level of psychological pain that then caused them to behave in a damaging way to themselves or others, such as violence, self-harm, or even suicide.

Is it fair of Facebook to have subjected users to this possibility without their explicit consent?

My personal opinion on the experiment and its ethics

For me, there is no doubt that is an excitingly innovative use of a social network to test a real-world question on how human interactions change their emotional state.

Although the consequences were potentially negative, I personally think that this a fair use of the system and makes a very interesting point that people place corporations like Facebook in an extraordinary position of power.

When you sign up to a service like Facebook and log in to absorb information from your personal News Feed, in essence you are handing over the keys to your mood.

In this case, Facebook did not explicitly gain permission for the experiment, but they were well within their right to do so as their users had already signed over to this possibility.

For those who protest that users will have seen more emotionally negative updates that they usually would have done, the key phrase I suggest needs to be examine is “usually would have done”. This usual state of affairs implied by “usually” is determined by an algorithm that the user has already designated as a key agent in the provision of knowledge. They have given it permission to process and serve knowledge under a variety of conditions, so this experiment is just one of them.

What can we learn from this experiment?

  1. Be happy and positive on Facebook (and in life generally), as it is scientifically established that your emotions are mirrored by the people around you. So if you like people and want them to be happy, be happy yourself!
  2. The content of your personal Facebook News Feed is determined by an algorithm. Given the amount of time that Facebook users spend viewing this information, and the documented impact it has on their emotions, one should think carefully and critically about how much time to spend on Facebook and how much to pay attention to what one sees there.
  3. Pay attention to the small print when you register for websites and think deeply about what the possible implications could be. What uses could the website’s creator possibly have in mind for your data and how could it affect you in real life?
  4. Be selective about the algorithms that you allow into your life and the power that you are given them over your well-being.
  5. On a scientific level, in-person interaction and non-verbal cues are not preconditions for emotional transfer between people: verbal communication is enough for emotional contagion to occur. The effects are small, but statistically significant.

Where can I read the academic paper?

The short paper, published as a collaboration between Facebook,  the University of California San Francisco and Cornell University, can be read for free online here.