The Russel Conjugation

Eric R. Weinstein on The Russel Conjugation:

The basic principle of Russell Conjugation is that the human mind is constantly looking ahead well beyond what is true or false to ask “What is the social consequence of accepting the facts as they are?”  While this line of thinking is obviously self-serving, we are descended from social creatures who could not safely form opinions around pure facts so much as around how those facts are presented to us by those we ape, trust or fear. Thus, as listeners and readers our minds generally mirror the emotional state of the source, while in our roles as authoritative narrators presenting the facts, we maintain an arsenal of language to subliminally instruct our listeners and readers on how we expect them to color their perceptions. Russell discussed this by putting three such presentations of a common underlying fact in the form in which a verb is typically conjugated:

  • I am firm. [Positive empathy]
  • You are obstinate. [Neutral to mildly negative empathy]
  • He/She/It is pigheaded.  [Very negative empathy]

In all three cases, Russell was describing people who did not readily change their minds. Yet by putting these descriptions so close together and without further factual information to separate the individual cases, we were forced to confront the fact that most of us feel positively towards the steadfast narrator and negatively towards the pigheaded fool, all without any basis in fact.

…If we accept that Russell Conjugation keeps us from even seeing that we do not hold consistent opinions on facts, we see a possible new answer to a puzzle that dates from the birth of the web: “If the internet democratized information, why has its social impact been so much slower than many of us expected?” Assuming that our actions are based not on what we know but upon how we feel about what we know, we see that traditional media has all but lost control of gate-keeping our information, but not yet how it is emotively shaded. In fact, it is relatively simple to write a computer program to crawl factually accurate news stories against a look-up table of Russell conjugates to see the exact bias of every supposedly objective story.

Thus the answer to the puzzle of our inaction it seems may be that we built an information superhighway for all, but neglected to build an empathy network alongside it to democratize what we feel.”

Information Graphics by Jeff McNeill

This is another presentation from Jeff McNeill (who brought you the Drucker and Goldratt Concept map).

This one is an introduction to Information Graphics, a topic I that has fascinated me ever since coming across Edward Tufte and recently stimulated by Dan Roam’s superb Back of the Napkin series of books on Visual Thinking.

Problem Solving 101


This little book is getting rave reviews, most notably from “Back of the Napkin” author Dan Roam who writes:

“A truly wonderful book has just hit the stands: Ken Watanabe’s Problem Solving 101. If you like The Back of the Napkin’s approach to looking at the world, you owe it to yourself to get this book.”

Problem Solving 101 – Official site

“Problem Solving 101” by Ken Watanabe –

How Social Networks Network Best

“One of the most important group decisions made by a bee colony is where to locate the hive. Bees use a kind of “idea market” to guide their discovery: The colony sends out a small number of scouts to survey the environment. Returning scouts that have found promising sites signal their discoveries with a vigorous dance, thus recruiting more scouts to the better sites. The cycle of exploration and signalling continues until so many scouts are signaling in favor of the best site that a tipping point is reached.

The bees’ decision making highlights both information discovery and information integration, two processes that are crucial to every organization but that have different requirements. A centralized structure works well for discovery, because the individual’s role is to find information and report it back. In contrast, a richly connected network works best for integration and decision making, because it allows the individual to hear everyone else’s opinion about the expected return from each of the alternatives. The bees’ process suggests that organizations that alternate as needed between the centralized structure and the richly connected network can shape information fl ow to optimize both discovery and integration.”

From: The HBR List 2009 – How Social Networks Network Best

Getting your head around charts

This week LifeHacker linked to a wonderful free PDF published by the Extreme Presentation Method that helps one choose what chart to use depending on the information you want to present.

The Chart Chooser [PDF 89Kb]

The chart chooser is step 7 in the 10-step Extreme Presentation method for designing presentations that drive action.

For more on this methodology see their blog on the Extreme Presentation site, and in Advanced Presentations by Design


Another chart related service I cam eacross this week was recommended by 3Tera: AnyChart.

From their website:

“AnyChart is a flexible Flash based solution that allows you to create interactive and great looking flash charts. It is a cross-browser and cross-platform charting solution intended for everybody who deals with creation of dashboard, reporting, analytics, statistical, financial or any other data visualization solutions.

Right Visualization helps you to turn your data into Right Decisions! If you need advanced, award winning charts and graphs, then AnyChart is the perfect solution for you.”


During a discussion about the grandmaster of Information and data visualization – Edward Tufte – a colleague recommended I check out FlowingData :

“FlowingData explores how designers, statisticians, and computer scientists are using data to understand ourselves better – mainly through data visualization. Money spent, reps at the gym, time you waste, and personal information you enter online are all forms of data. How can we understand these data flows? Data visualization lets non-experts make sense of it all. “

If you like data visualization, then FlowingData’s feed is definately worth subscribing to.

See also:

CaseOrganic’s Data Visualizations Flickr Collection

[Update: Make sure you check out Dr Simon Raybould’s concept of the “Golden Duck” , an entirely unnecessary graphic that draws attention to itself but contains no information. I finally have a name for my graphic pain! Thanks Simon.]


Joe and Parse 2 has a brilliant post entitled “11 Things I Learned While Trying to Figure Out the Financial Crisis“.

I particularly like his last two:

  1. Cognitive errors. Megan McCardle of The Atlantic has compiled a useful list of cognitive errors that seem to have played a role in the crisis – both in creating the conditions that led to it and in compounding it…
  2. The Black Swan. Nassim Nicholas Taleb is my kind of economist. The basis of his philosophy is that, “The world we live in is vastly different from the world we think we live in.” He advocates “tinkering” as our best mean to change the world – and his theory of the markets take into account many of the previous points. While he was running his own hedge fund in the 1990s, he turned his own knowledge of his lack of knowledge – and others’ lack of knowledge – into enormous profits. It came at the expense of losing a little money 364 days of the year – but making enormous profits in that one remaining day. He would bet on market volatility – which he understood financial firms repeatedly underestimated. Taleb’s key insight is that we know very little of the world itself – and will be more often fundamentally wrong than right…

At the “Tinkering” link above, he explains Taleb’s idea by quoting from Brain Appleyard in The Times:

Taleb believes in tinkering – it was to be the title of his next book. Trial and error will save us from ourselves because they capture benign black swans. Look at the three big inventions of our time: lasers, computers and the internet. They were all produced by tinkering and none of them ended up doing what their inventors intended them to do. All were black swans. The big hope for the world is that, as we tinker, we have a capacity for choosing the best outcomes.

“We have the ability to identify our mistakes eventually better than average; that’s what saves us.” We choose the iPod over the Walkman. Medicine improved exponentially when the tinkering barber surgeons took over from the high theorists. They just went with what worked, irrespective of why it worked. Our sense of the good tinker is not infallible, but it might be just enough to turn away from the apocalypse that now threatens Extremistan.

If some of the words in the excerpt seem a bit odd, it is because Taleb is creating an entire new glossary for his ideas.

10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything

Stepcase Lifehack has a great list of skills one needs to succeed at almost anything:. Here is the short version, they go into detail at the post:

1. Public Speaking
2. Writing
3. Self-Management
4. Networking
5. Critical Thinking
6. Decision-Making
7. Math
8. Research
9. Relaxation
10. Basic Accounting

[From 10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything – Stepcase Lifehack]

Notice how many of these map to this blog’s categories?