By Carolyn Gregoire Long before microdosing was being touted as the Silicon Valley life hack du jour, Dr. James Fadiman was investigating the potential mind-enhancing effects of ingesting psychedelic drugs like LSD and psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms. In the 1960s, Fadiman conducted pioneering psychedelic research, including one study in which he gave […]
The Journal of Cognitive Enhancement (which is excellent, btw) recently published an article on improving working memory that’s gotten quite a bit of attention over the last few days. It’s also generated a fair amount of hype. The short version is the dual n-back test improved the working memory of participants by 30% over the baseline. Training using the dual n-back test was twice as effective as a competing method, the complex span test.
Working memory is temporary storage for data requiring immediate retrieval. Like a memory cache on a computer, working memory comes into play when remembering a phone number, directions, or the names of the six people you just met at a cocktail party.
In the experiment, 136 young adults trained with their respective methods for 30 minutes a day, five days per week. In the complex span test, trainees have to remember the location of an item while being distracted by another task. Figure 1 gives an idea of what this test looks like:
Figure 1: Representation of the complex span test.
Trainees using this method were less effective an improving working memory than those training with the dual n-back test. The dual n-back test consists of visual and auditory components (hence the “dual”) where the user has to remember both the letter spoken and the location of the square on the screen “n” spaces back. For example, if asked to recall the spoken letter and square location from two letters ago, that’s a 2-back test. Three letters ago, 3-back, and so on. Figure 2 depicts what the dual n-back test looks like.
Figure 2. Dual n-back test.
Importantly, the researchers have no idea why this method works better than others. Researchers determined dual n-band trainees had an increase in alpha band brain activity, which correlates to attention, memory and executive functions.
The researchers also tested intelligence before and after the training period, hypothesizing that training would improve overall intelligence. Unfortunately, no such improvement was found. Today’s brain training is narrowly focused on improving a specific skill set rather than improving general intelligence.
However, this memory training method gives me hope that I’ll finally be able to remember names the next time I’m at a cocktail party.
When I started my gig as an industry analyst, I was comfortable with the writing and client interaction parts of the job. The last part, getting on stage and talking for 30-45 minutes, was completely foreign to me. I had to learn how to create and deliver compelling stories to international audiences, often with different expectations. Making things worse, sometimes I’m required give presentations that I didn’t create.
Books on developing presentation skills and creating content often talk about the importance of practicing and rehearsing your presentations. But they rarely talk about how and what to practice. After a few years of experience presenting to diverse audiences, here’s what I’ve learned about presentation rehearsal.
Rehearse your content in sections
When I first started, I would rehearse my presentations from start to finish – or at least that was the intent. I’d start with my intro and move quickly into the first few slides. Then I’d get distracted by something, usually minor, on an early slide. Or I’d stumble over a story and keep working on it. The end result was that I didn’t spend as much, if any, time practicing the content in the middle and end.
Divide your rehearsal sessions into blocks to rehearse specific content. You might have an three core topics you want to discuss in your pitch. Schedule time rehearse each section independent of the other sections. This gives you a chance to work on isolated parts and refine them, without being distracted by the whole.
Nail the open and close
The opening was never much of a problem for me. I’d rehearse my opening probably 80-100 times (see above about rehearsing in sections). Then I’d bleed out during the close. Put additional emphasis on your opening and closing sections and schedule that rehearsal time separately.
Practice content transitions
Another trap I fell into was practicing just the talk track for the slide content, not how I would get to the next element or slide. How you arrive at a slide, whether it’s a data-centric transition or story-led transition, practice the transitions from one slide to another. Once I started rehearsing transitions, my delivery was much more fluid and my scores went up. My on-stage anxiety also dropped.
Rehearse on your feet and seated
You must rehearse your content while standing since that’s how you’ll deliver it – out loud and walking around a stage. You can’t just walk through the content in your head. That doesn’t create the necessary muscle memory for a successful delivery. You can also rehearse in front of people, but that’s often not an option for me.
This last tip will seem counterintuitive, but rehearsing my content out loud while seated allows me to focus on just the content. When I rehearse while seated, I focus on keeping my hands and body still and solely on delivering the content. For me, this translates into less random movement on stage. Instead, movements are more planned and (hopefully) more impactful to the audience.
- Richard Butterfield’s Power of Persuasion – I’ve had an opportunity to work with Mr. Butterfield on my presentation style and effectiveness. If you can take one of his workshops, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, his book is one of the best I’ve read on communication and presentation skills.
- Confessions of a Public Speaker – Scott Berkun’s book was one of the first I read when I realized a significant portion of my job would be delivering presentations. Scott offers practical advice on both the mechanics of public speaking and storytelling.
Note: This was originally published on my work blog.
After seven months of work, my research on cognitive enhancement drugs (CEDs) in IT finally published. It published as part of Gartner’s annual Maverick project, which is a bit like an incubator for fringe research topics. Even publishing as Maverick, there are bound to be questions about the real likelihood of CEDs entering the IT department. That’s not unreasonable, and there are some interesting indicators. I’ll refer to two.
The first is a quote from an engineer at Uber. The context is a Buzzfeed article about the impact of Uber’s culture on employees: “If you’ve been woken up at 3 a.m. for the last five days, and you’re only sleeping three to four hours a day, and you make a mistake, how much at fault are you, really?”
It’s a good question. The reality is, in most companies, the engineer is at fault.
The second example is much more recent. Deeplearning.ai, a startup in the AI space recently posted a job description stating the employee would be expected to regularly work 70-90 hours per week:
Are those working hours sustainable? Can you reliably produce high quality work when working 11-12 hours per day? (Although with 24 hours in a day, working just 12 hours could be considered only working half days.) It’s not unreasonable to assume that, with these expectations for working hours, some form of cognitive enhancement is expected, if not demanded.
Don’t dismiss this as some Silicon Valley anomaly. Every company feels the pressure to digitalize, probably because of the work of some Silicon Valley startups. This increases pressure everywhere, especially in IT as it bears the brunt of the transformation effort.
Work pressures are only one reason people take smart drugs. Others include interested experimenters, who I call “pharmanauts” in my research, as well as others. But the people taking prescription drugs for cognitive deficiencies they may not have just to survive punitive work culture is the most dangerous scenario for both the employees and the employer.
If you’re working in tech and are either taking CEDs or thinking about it, I’d like to hear from you. Please respond in the comments and I’ll respond to you privately.
And if you’re a Gartner client interested in this research, you can find it here: Maverick* Research: Cognitive Enhancement Drugs Are Changing Your Business
Research supporting the use of cognitive enhancement in healthy people is, at best, inconclusive. But it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which some type of cognitive enhancement is effective at maximizing executive function and working memory with little to no negative impact. This scenario is admittedly far-fetched, but it introduces interesting questions: If cognitive enhancement methods are effective, should certain professions be required to use them? This is the question posed in a 2014 research document.
As the authors point out, progress in science and technology has already impacted countless jobs and created new obligations to use practices and methods that improve outcomes. The counter argument is that these innovations, like antiseptics, are external. They don’t force a professional to alter his or her brain chemistry to possibly deliver better outcomes.
If cognitive enhancement were safe and effective, should those enhancements be used in every situation? Would you want a cognitively enhanced surgeon or pilot?
This is the second in a series of posts about how I do my day job. You can find the first post here: How I Work (Tools).
At this point, I feel like I’ve tried every available productivity tool and method. I still experiment when I see something new, but I’ve finally refined my process for getting stuff done on a day-to-day basis. There are several pieces, but each is generally simple on its own. Actually, the whole process is simple. Otherwise I wouldn’t follow it.
Today, my go-to for planning projects is the iOS/macOS Reminders app. It doesn’t have a lot of features, but it syncs across my devices and prompts me with annoying notifications when I’m behind on deadlines. I’ve tried things like Todoist, and spent weeks trying to get OmniFocus integrated into my workflow, but I didn’t have the patience to either adjust how I worked to meet the limitations of the software or spend weeks customizing it. Ad hoc projects also land on my plate on a regular basis. I needed something easy and fluid to adapt to that. Lastly, I’m not going to pay for complexity when simplicity is free.
In Reminders, each project I’m working on gets its own list of deliverables, and each deliverable has a priority and due date. If it’s a publishing or presentation project, I also create a notebook in Evernote to store web clippings, notes, PDFs, etc. When a project is completed, the Reminders list is deleted and the Evernote notebook goes into an archived notebook stack. Why don’t I use Evernote’s reminders instead? Because they’re impossible to find across devices. (For such critical component in the way I work, Evernote is a disappointing piece of software.)
The Reminders app is really a staging area for everything that I have to get done, but it can be overwhelming to see everything at once. That’s when I use a simplified bullet journal.
Bullet Journal for Daily Processing
Each morning follows roughly the same pattern. I look through the list projects and see what’s languishing and add the next project-specific deliverable in the list to a notebook – with actual paper and pen. I might add 3-4 work-related things and 1-2 things around the house I need to get done (clean the litter boxes? yay!). I don’t add more because 1) I know I likely won’t get that far and 2) something else is always waiting in my inbox.
While there are certainly examples of elaborate bullet journals, mine is a simple list of the day’s tasks with boxes to the left. Completed tasks get an ‘x.’ Things that I didn’t complete get an arrow indicating a carry-over to the next day. Sometimes things don’t go my way and I end up carrying things over for days at a time.
Aggressive Time-Boxing for Individual Tasks
This last part is the most recent addition to my productivity process. I received an Esington pomodoro timer as a gift, which forced me to learn about the Pomodoro Technique. Pomodoro is a simplified time management method in which you work for 25 minutes at a time, then take a short break. That’s it. With the 25-minute timer in front of me, it’s easier to avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand. Add some noise canceling headphones, and I’m set.
Why This Works for Me
With hundreds of productivity methods and best practices out there, I find this simple method works for me because:
It’s not overly digital. Notifications flashing on my phone and other screens don’t create a sense of urgency for me. The digital parts are just there to store tasks until I add them to the treeware notebook. Writing things down and crossing them off gives a sense of satisfaction that checking off a digital box doesn’t. And the physical act of flipping over a 25-minute timer helps me focus in a way that a timer on my phone doesn’t.
It’s simple. Many productivity methods, like GTD IMO, focus on the method instead of the result. Often, they’re so intricate and rigid that they fail to reflect the messy reality of most peoples’ work lives. My cobbled together method may not look pretty or win any awards, but it doesn’t have to. It only has to help me get stuff done.
Does this sound like your productivity method? Did you get OmniFocus to work for you? (If you did, I’d like to know how.) Let me know in the comments.
My previous post on ICOs and venture capital led to a question about how ICOs are currently regulated. I spent some time last weekend looking at the regulatory environment for ICOs. While I was bewildered by much of what I read, I managed to learn two things:
- Existing cryptocurrency regulations are primarly concerned with AML/KYC, not consumer protections.
- Regulating ICOs as securities is still nascent, with varying approaches by jurisdiction.
The Current Regulatory Environment
In most jurisdictions, cryptocurrency exchanges have to comply with existing anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) regulations. ICOs, as cryptocurrencies, fall under these existing regulations. Implementing these requirements can be difficult. Since tokens are transferred using generated addresses, identifying the parties in a transaction can be difficult. Other networks, like Zcash, support fully anonymous transactions, potentially obviating things like KYC.
Entities conducting an ICO may also face regulations from multiple jurisdictions that classify ICOs and cryptocurrencies in different ways. Cross-border tax implications have yet to be reconciled.
Future Regulatory Directions
In the U.S., the SEC issued an investor bulletin for ICOs. The bulletin didn’t offer any proactive advice on ICO regulations. Instead, the bulletin simply advised investors that, depending on the circumstances of a given ICO, the tokens may or may not be securities. As I understood it, tokens that return capital gains or profits back to the token holder are more likely to be considered securities.
ICOs issuing tokens that are deemed securities will face more scrutiny and overhead. Sales must be registered, as will secondary markets that trade in tokens. Local laws will also apply, which can vary in each state.
At least in the U.S., this should be seen as promising. Regulators effectively went with what they knew: securities. They didn’t overreach in their guidance to investors or ICO issuers, but they also left a number of areas yet to be defined. At least in the U.S., I believe these open regulatory areas will eventually be covered. Other jurisdictions are also actively outlining how ICOs will coexist in their markets, but this will take time.