Multitasking: More Is Less says the WSJ

July 26, 2011

There’s growing evidence that multitasking can be harmful, and businesses need to re-examine goals for workers, writes Ruth Mantell in the Wall Street Journal

“With the ubiquity of mobile devices and other communications technology, many workers are expected to multitask, with some employees taking pride in their perceived ability to switch between complex tasks. But all this multitasking is putting workers, as well as their employers, at risk, experts say.

"It’s unequivocally the case that workers who are doing multiple things at one time are doing them poorly," says Clifford Nass, director of the Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab at Stanford University. "The human brain just really isn’t built to switch rapidly from one task to another. Workers who constantly multitask are hurting their ability to get work done, even when they are not multitasking. People become much more distracted, can’t manage their memory very well."

Companies that demand multitasking may be damaging productivity.

"It would be a total tragedy if when we have so much potential to make the work force more intelligent, we are actually making the work force dumber," Mr. Nass says. "Companies that are demanding that workers multitask might not only be hurting their productivity, but may be making the workforce worse thinkers."

In a 2009 study, Mr. Nass and other researchers found that heavy media multitaskers are "more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli," and were worse at switching between tasks, likely because of their lesser ability to ignore irrelevant information.

Some companies are beginning to worry about the impact of multitasking, Mr. Nass says.

"Slowly you are starting to see companies starting to change from everything having to be answered immediately," Mr. Nass says.

From an employer’s point of view, one of the most worrying effects may be the trouble that chronic multitaskers have focusing.

"They are seduced by irrelevancy. They are constantly distracting themselves. They will look for distraction even when no such distraction exists," Mr. Nass says. "We are creating a culture that encourages workers to be less effective, handle information poorly and have a tougher time in social relationships. What does the work force look like where people can’t pay attention, where people can’t think deeply and where people lack emotional skills? It’s a pretty scary world."

Troubles can start when individuals try to work simultaneously on more than one complex task. Complex tasks require some reflection or mindfulness, says Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Anything that involves upgrading information requires consciousness, and that’s where the limited bandwidth comes in," says Mr. Miller.

Complex multitasking can mean missing out on details.

"The best way to get things properly stored in long-term memory is to pay close attention to them, and if you are overtaxing your short-term memory, you are going to be missing things and they won’t appear in long-term memory because they won’t be stored in the first place," Mr. Miller says.

When workers do complex multitasking they are often in a state of stress, and unable to recognize opportunities and solutions, says Linda Stone, a former senior high-tech executive based in Seattle.

"There could be an answer right in front of you that doesn’t look like what you think it should look like," Ms. Stone says. "In a stressed state, we often miss things that are right in front of us."

Multitaskers think they are much more successful at completing tasks than they actually are, experts say. Ms. Stone uses the phrase "continuous partial attention" to describe complex multitasking.

"We may believe that when we’re driving and talking on a cellphone, we are aware of everything around us," Ms. Stone says. "The truth is, we’re often missing quite a bit."

It can be tough to resist the allure of an unread email or unresponded-to instant message, but the reward is completing tasks at a higher quality level. Here are tips from the experts about how to stop, or at least curb, multitasking:

Strategize: "Plan ahead and remove the possibility of distraction. If there are [fewer] things tempting you, it’s easier to focus on the job at hand," says Mr. Miller.

Work on a single task for at least 20 minutes: "When you start to do something, do it and nothing else for 20 minutes. This trains you to focus, to think deeply. It trains you not to think that distraction is a positive, and it teaches your brain to be able to focus," Mr. Nass says.

Make face time sacred: "It’s very, very important for the human brain to really spend some time talking to one person, face-to-face, without any technological distraction," Mr. Nass says”

Ruth Mantell, On Sunday 10 July 2011, 11:22 SGT

Multitasking: More Is Less – Yahoo! Singapore Finance


Master Lock richt zich op gespecialiseerde veiligheidssloten

July 26, 2011

Het gebruik maken van retail hangsloten als persoonlijke veiligheidsapparaten is een verborgen gevaar op de werkplaats, zegt veiligheidsexpert Master Lock.

Master Lock Safety Series

Het fysieke versleutelen van de bediening van apparatuur of processen om te voorkomen dat deze worden geactiveerd wanneer personeel mogelijk gevaar loopt – een procedure bekend als Lock Out/Tag Out (LOTO) – is een veelgebruikte veiligheidsprocedure in industriële omgevingen. Maar een campagne die veiligheidsspecialist Master Lock deze zomer zal lanceren benadrukt dat als dit soort veiligheidsprocedures geen deel uit maken van een volledige veiligheidsstrategie, kwetsbaar personeel mogelijk niet volledig beschermd zijn.

Elk jaar gebeuren er duizenden industriële ongelukken in Europa, ondanks dat de meesten volledig voorkomen hadden kunnen worden door LOTO-procedures te gebruiken, die activering van apparatuur of onverwachte uitstoot van energie of chemicaliën voorkomen.

“De effectiviteit van LOTO-procedures hangen volledig af van de integriteit van individuele vergrendelingapparatuur”, aldus Kieran MacCourt, Europese marketing manager van Master Lock. “Een slot gebruiken dat gemakkelijk breekt of verwijderd kan worden zonder de originele sleutel, kan nog gevaarlijker zijn dan helemaal geen slot gebruiken, omdat het voor een vals gevoel van veiligheid zorgt.

In een campagne gericht aan veiligheids- en facility managers, benadrukt Master Lock de gevaren die personeel loopt bij het gebruik van goedkope retail hangsloten en persoonlijke veiligheidsapparatuur. Ook wordt er op gewezen dat de consequenties van het gebruik van zulke ad hoc veiligheidsmaatregelen fataal kunnen zijn.

“De meeste gangbare hangsloten zijn niet ontworpen of bedoeld voor gebruik in levensbedreigende situaties”, aldus Maccourt. “Industriële omgevingen zijn onveranderlijk gevaarlijk en veelvuldig gebruik van een hangslot in dit soort omgevingen zal al snel voor slijtage zorgen en dus kunnen leiden tot falen en mogelijk levensbedreigende situaties.”

De meeste hangsloten die ontworpen zijn voor binnenshuis of sporadisch gebruik hebben bovendien vaak relatief simpele vergrendelingmechanismen en slechts enkele sleutelcombinaties. Dit vergroot de kans substantieel dat het slot open gemaakt kan worden met andere sleutels dan het origineel. “Er zijn verassend weinig sleutelvariaties in de vele lokale hangsloten”, vervolgt MacCourt. “Ook zijn er weinig beperkingen wat betreft het kopiëren van sleutels. Zodra je twee of drie sleutels van een veiligheidsslot in omloop hebt is het hele systeem waardeloos.”

Master Lock’s assortiment van professionele LOTO-apparatuur is ontwikkeld om een simpel doch effectief veiligheidsbeleid te handhaven, dat ingezet kan worden in vele verscheidene industriële toepassingen. Deze zomer lanceert het bedrijf gratis gidsen op zijn website om veiligheids- en facility managers te helpen effectieve LOTO-strategieën te ontwikkelen en het gebruik van ongeautoriseerde sloten in veiligheidstoepassingen te beheren.

News Release

Use the SCAMPER system to create new ideas.

July 26, 2011

I ran across this very interesting blend of psychology and historical anecdotes on Psychology Today. A great read and some interesting ideas to bear in mind.

Nine easy ways to generate a lot of ideas is to apply a checklist of nine creative-thinking principles that were first formally suggested by Alex Osborn, pioneer of brainstorming, and later arranged into the following mnemonic SCAMPER.

S = Substitute?
C = Combine?
A = Adapt?
M = Magnify? = Modify?
P = Put to other uses?
E = Eliminate?
R = Rearrange? = Reverse?

SCAMPER is based on the notion that everything new is some addition or modification of something that already exists. You take a subject and change it into something else. (E.g., drilled petroleum becomes chemical feedstock becomes synthetic rubber becomes automobile tires. Natural gas becomes polyethylene becomes milk jugs. Mined ore becomes metal becomes wire becomes parts of a motor.)you can take anything that exists and change it into a new idea.

The blueprint for using SCAMPER is:

(1) Isolate the subject you want to think about.

(2) Ask the SCAMPER questions about each step of the subject and see what new ideas emerge.

(3) For every new idea you discover, ask "How can…?" "What else…?" "How else…?"

(4) List and evaluate the ideas.

Suppose you wanted to improve the ordinary paperclip? You would start looking for ideas by asking:

– What can be substituted in the clip?

– What can I combine the clip with to make something else?

– What can I adapt to the clip?

– How can I modify the clip?

– What can I magnify or add to the clip?

– What other uses can I find for the clip?

– What can be eliminated from the clip?

– What is the reverse of a clip?

– What other rearrangement of the clip might be better?

One manufacturer substituted plastic for metal, added color, and produced plastic clips in various colors so that clipped papers could be color-coded thereby finding another use for clips.

Think about any subject from improving your productivity to reorganizing your organization and apply the Scamper checklist of questions. You will find that ideas start popping up almost involuntarily, as you ask:

SUBSTITUTE SOMETHING? The principle of substitution is a sound way to develop alternative ideas to anything that exists. Think up ways of changing this for that and that for this. The scientist, Paul Ehrlich, kept substituting one color for another—well over 500 colors—until he found the right dye to color the veins of laboratory mice. You can substitute things, places, procedures, people, ideas, and even emotions. Ask:

Can you substitute something? Who else? What else?

Can the rules be changed?

Other ingredient? Other material? Other power? Other place? Other approach?

What else instead? What other part instead of this?

COMBINE IT WITH SOMETHING ELSE? Much of creative thinking involves combining previously unrelated ideas or subjects to make something new. This process is called synthesis, and is regarded by many experts as the essence of creativity. Gregor Mendel created a whole new scientific discipline, genetics, by combining mathematics with biology. Ask:

What can be combined?

Can we combine purposes?

How about an assortment? A blend? An alloy? An ensemble?

Combine units? Combine materials? What other article could be merged with this?

How could we package a combination?

What can be combined to multiply possible uses?

Combine appeals?

ADAPT SOMETHING TO IT? One of the paradoxes of creativity is that in order to think originally, we must first familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. Thomas Edison put it this way: "Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on." Ask:

What else is like this? What other ideas does it suggest?

Does the past offer a parallel?

What could I copy? Whom could I emulate?

What idea could I incorporate?

What other process could be adapted? What else could be adapted?

What different contexts can I put my concept in?

What ideas outside my field can I incorporate?

MAGNIFY IT? An easy way to create a new idea is to take a subject and add something to it. Japanese engineer Yuma Shiraishi made the home VCR possible by figuring out how to lengthen videotapes so they would be long enough for feature-length movies. Ask:

What can be magnified, made larger, or extended?

What can be exaggerated? Overstated?

What can be added? More time? Stronger? Higher? Longer?

How about greater frequency? Extra features? What can be duplicated?

What can add extra value?

How can I carry it to a dramatic extreme?

MODIFY IT? What can be modified? Just about any aspect of anything. The hub-and-spoke transportation system that makes Federal Express work was a feature of at least three air freight services as early as 1930. What Fred Smith did was to modify the dimensions, process and purposes of the system and turned an old idea into an elegant concept. Ask:

How can this be altered for the better? What can be modified?

Is there a new twist?

Change meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, shape? Change name?

What changes can be made in the plans? In the process? In marketing? Other changes?

What other form could this take? What other package? Can the package be combined with the form?

PUT IT TO SOME OTHER USE? A subject takes its meaning from the context in which you put it. Change the context, and you change the meaning. George Washington Carver, botanist and chemist, discovered over 300 different uses for the lowly peanut. Ask:

What else can this be used for?

Are there new ways to use as is?

Other uses if modified?

What else can be made from this?

Other extension? Other markets?

ELIMINATE? Sometimes subtracting something from your subject yields new ideas. Trimming down ideas, objects, and processes may gradually narrow the subject down to its truly necessary part or function–or spotlight a part that=s appropriate for some other use. Ask:

What if this were smaller? Understate?

What should I omit? Delete? Subtract? What=s not necessary?

Should I divide it? Split it up? Separate it into different parts?

Streamline? Make miniature? Condense? Compact?

Can the rules be eliminated?

REARRANGE IT INTO SOMETHING ELSE? Creativity, it could be said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we do not know. Rearrangement usually offers countless alternatives for ideas, goods, and services. A baseball manager, for example, can shuffle his lineup 362,880 times. Ask:

What other arrangement might be better?

Interchange components?

Other pattern? Other layout? Other sequence? Change the order?

Transpose cause and effect?

Change pace? Change schedule?

REVERSE IT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS? Reversing your perspective opens your thinking. Look at opposites and you’ll see things you normally miss. Ask "What is the opposite of this?" to find a new way of looking at things. The historical breakthroughs of Columbus and Copernicus were the polar opposites of the current beliefs of their day. Ask:

What are the opposites?

What are the negatives?

Can I transpose positive and negative?

Should I turn it around? Up instead of down? Down instead of up? Consider it backwards?

Reverse roles?

Do the unexpected?

Even the hot dog, as we know it, is the result of the right idea-spurring question being asked at the right time. Antoine Feutchwanger sold sausages at the Louisiana Exposition in 1904. He first sold them on plates, but this proved too expensive. He then offered white cotton gloves along with the franks to prevent customers from burning their fingers. The gloves also were expensive, and customers walked off with them. Antoine and his brother-in-law, a baker, sat down and brainstormed. "What could be added (MAGNIFY) to the frankfurter that would be inexpensive and would prevent people from burning their fingers?" His brother-in-law said: "What if I baked a long bun and slit it to hold the frank?" "Then you can sell the franks, and I can sell you the buns. Who knows, it might catch on."

9 Easy Ways to Create Ideas | Psychology Today

Published originally on July 20, 2011 by Michael Michalko in Creative Thinkering

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures

July 18, 2011

An amusing and audacious attempt to spin bad news, spotted by “Axegrinder” writing in the Press Gazette.

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures

Posted by Axegrinder on 15 July 2011 at 09:53

Who says that the millions police forces spend on PR is a waste of money?

Axegrinder has been sent this hilarious press release sent out from North Yorkshire Police force’s answer to the Ministry of Truth.

Stop the presses, apparently crime has gone down in the county. Rejoice, you might think – until you get to the fifth par when you find out that crime has actually gone up. I’ve heard about dropped intros but this is ridiculous.

North Yorkshire Police is making great strides to clamp down on crime.

The force’s latest performance figures show a 6.6% reduction between April and June 2011 compared to the previous year.

This period – the first quarter of the current financial year – has seen 741 fewer crimes recorded than this time last year (10,401 against 11,150 crime). Detections have also increased by 3.7% to a total of 33.5%.

This significant impact is in direct response to a small but concerning increase in overall crime last year in North Yorkshire and the City of York.

Published today (Thursday 14 July 2011), the Home Office’s Annual Crime Statistics 2010/11 for England and Wales outlines a 0.6% increase in crime in the county. This equates to 267 more crimes in comparison to the previous year – from 42,196 to 42,464.

This increase was largely down to higher levels of crime in January, February and March 2011 compared to the previous year. North Yorkshire Police also saw a rise in reports of historical serious sexual offences which is a positive indicator in victim confidence in the police, as well as proactive police work to target drugs offences, most noticeably in Selby with the success of Operation Orate which saw a series of raids on cannabis farms and a 55% increase in offences in the district. In addition there were 137 separate fraud crimes committed by a company director from York.

However, the corresponding British Crime Survey figures that have also been released today are extremely positive for North Yorkshire Police, with only 6.4% of the public perceiving a high level of anti-social behaviour – the lowest level in England.

Public confidence in the force and local councils to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour has also increased by almost 6% over the past year, to a total of 55.9%.

The stand alone confidence measure in North Yorkshire Police has also increased to 61.5% from 57.9%.

Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Tim Madgwick said: “This was the first year-on-year rise in recorded overall crime since 2003/04, and whilst this is ultimately a disappointing position, it must be taken within context of a long term reduction which has seen 20,000 fewer offences committed in North Yorkshire and the City of York over the last six years.

“Despite the rise, it is important to emphasise that the North Yorkshire policing area remains the fourth safest and lowest crime area in England and Wales. The results of the British Crime Survey are also a welcome indication of the satisfaction people have in the service we deliver.”

Mr Madgwick added: “Nevertheless, we have taken some very firm action in response to the small spike in crime and I am very satisfied to report that it is now on a downward trend once more.

“A particular success has been our dedicated burglary reduction campaign Operation Haven, which is having a great impact on reducing offences and promoting key crime prevention messages to members of our communities.

“It is this type of proactive and intelligence-led policing activity, together with strong partnership working and engagement with the very people we serve, that will help to maintain the high quality of life in North Yorkshire and the City of York.”

Bill Baugh, Vice Chairman of North Yorkshire Police Authority, said: “The Authority looked at the full year’s data at its AGM in June and it was disappointing to see the slight rise at the end of the last financial year.  Crucially though, the more recent results have shown encouraging downward trends that we are more used to in recent years.

“We are not complacent though and in those more challenging crime categories, particularly burglaries, violence and theft, the Police Authority has requested further analysis of the issues and tactics to be presented at the next Performance and Scrutiny Board meeting at the end of August so that we can be sure that the service is doing all that it can, on its own and with partners, to sustain the good results seen in the last three months for the rest of the year.”

Police PR department explains how up is down when it comes to crime figures | Axegrinder

Slides that don’t suck: a non-designer’s guide to creating awesome diagrams for slides

July 16, 2011

Great article on Lifehacker about creating powerful and clear presentations.

By following just a few simple rules, anyone can create diagrams and illustrate information more clearly in slide presentations. Enrique Garcia Cota shared some essential guidelines for things like choosing font size, shapes, color, and more.

Although Cota, a.k.a. otikik, is not a designer, the tips he offers in his presentation maintain classic design principles, such as varying shape sizes for emphasis and to establish hierarchy. His tips are also designed for the audience in mind—those in the back of a room staring at a projector.

A Non-Designer’s Guide to Creating Awesome Diagrams for Slides

Engineers are cool!

July 1, 2011