Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things

This is part three of our series on learning new things. This post talks about why we are afraid to try new things. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

Learning something new can be daunting. There are reasons why we avoid trying new things. One is that we fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. Or we fear being outside our comfort zone, especially if it might make our minds look less sharp than we think they are.

We fear what others will think of us if they see us try something and we fail at it. People who make fun of others for looking goofy when trying something new are jerks. These jerks just keep others from trying new things. When anyone tries something new, they are going to look goofy. Or they won't know the answer. Or they will give the wrong answer.

Even when there are few critics (which is never the case, right?), you will always find plenty to improve, change, or be harsh towards. To those of us that are scared of looking like a fool, I encourage you to press on and remember that it’s ok because when you strike out, you learn. And when you learn, the next time will be better.

When I am learning a new dance routine, I have to expect myself to wreck the train several times. On my first attempt, I don't lead well enough. Trying a second time, I lead way too strongly and throw everything off balance. Finally, I sometimes lead just right. It takes repetition to find the right way to do things.

If I don't try it the first time because I'm scared of what I'll look like, then I will never get to the "just right" part.

The same goes with learning something mental. I know when I am facing something new I want to get it right the first time. Whether it's a test, or a project, or task. Whatever. However, I usually have to mess up and get the wrong answer first. And sometimes I have an audience. The audience can be one or several people.

If you are having trouble getting to the right answer, focus instead on looking for what is wrong. Be a critic of the problem and identify the ways it won't work. Make mistakes and figure out how to correct the errors. If you are writing, put something down on paper that is awful. Then go back and make it better. Don't try to hit a home run on the first draft. Get the words down on the page, then go back and edit. The hardest part of writing is first getting words on paper.

Critics can be demoralizing and can paralyze us into inaction. The worst critic of all is yourself. Seth Godin writes a lot on this subject and calls this part of our brain the lizard brain. The lizard brain dislikes change, challenges, and moving forward. What the lizard brain likes is status quo, not rocking the boat, and boredom.

If you want some more reading on using mistakes to get better, check out The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger and Michael Starbird. There is a whole section that deals with failing to make yourself more effective.

Brene Brown spoke about being vulnerable and dealing with critics. It's a twenty minute video but worth the time. (Link to the Roosevelt speech Brene mentions in her talk http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trsorbonnespeech.html )

And remember,

"A man's errors are his portals to discovery." - James Joyce

What are some other ways you like to fail in order to grow?


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part One: Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves - By Mary Williams.

Part Two: How to Learn From the Internet - By Maranda Gibson.

The Real Value of Flu Shots - Updated 2013

It's that time of year again. We recently had our flu vaccinations at the office. Have you had yours? Are you concerned about getting the vaccine? To add to our information below I'm including a link to an article on Gizmodo that talks about 25 myths of the flu vaccine.

2013 Update: Gizmodo posted 25 myths of getting the flu vaccine.

Three of the myths I hear most often that Gizmodo tackles are:
Myth #1: The flu vaccine gives you the flu or makes you sick.
Myth #2: The flu shot contains dangerous ingredients, such as mercury, formaldehyde and antifreeze.
Myth #6: Flu vaccines don’t work.

Every year we provide voluntary flu shots for the company. We feel like if we can keep one person from getting the flu, then it was a success.

There are those who disagree with the value of flu shots. I've met people who swear they have actually gotten the flu after receiving a flu shot. In addition, there is a Dr. Robert Rowen who states that:

  1. flu shots contain mercury
  2. 97.3% of adults don't even need flu shots because research shows only about 2.7% of adults get the flu (is this per year?)

Ok, so now I'm curious and I have decided to do some research on my own (especially since the doctor who quotes the research provides no links to said studies).

As a general practitioner and the owner of a hospice company in Fort Worth my brother, Dr. Brian Byrd, deals with the elderly and sick a lot.

So, what is his take on flu shots?

"It probably won't help you individually, since you most likely won't get the flu. The example I use is this: If 3,000 people in a community are vaccinated vs. 3,000 who aren't, at the end of the flu season, there are a lot more flu cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the non-vaccinated group."

Ok, so I take the flu shot for the communal effect, not personal effect. I'm ok with that. But others aren't.

Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?

"About 5% of people who get the flu shot feel crummy after. The vaccine uses a killed virus, so it's impossible to get the flu from the vaccine. It is a foreign substance, so it might make you feel like you are sick."

What are his thoughts on the 97.3% study?

97.3% is a mild season.

Other thoughts?

"Vaccinations have eliminated polio and smallpox. If we had stopped vaccinations back then, we would still be living with the threat of those as well as flu. It's a process. I just treated a one year old who had a bad case of whooping cough. His parents would not vaccinate him. Now, he will probably have a lifetime of asthma as a result."

Thank you Dr. Byrd.

Here are some other things I found:

Some (not all) flu shots contain thimerosal. Thimerosal is a preservative containing ethyl mercury. So far I have not been able to find anything concrete regarding the toxicity or safety of using thimerosal as a preservative in flu vaccines since 1999. Most of the articles I found related to multiple vaccines in infants can be dangerous because the amount of ethyl mercury can accumulate in children who have difficulty metabolizing the ethyl mercury. I have yet to find any studies/articles pertaining to ethyl mercury and danger to adults.

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/26/flu-vaccine-exposed.aspx

The CDC states that "on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related conditions." These numbers contradict Robert Rowan's numbers of 2.7%. I guess he is going off a mild season.

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/disease.htm

This is from the American Lung Association:

"The flu shot. The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated, which means that someone receiving the vaccine cannot get influenza from the flu shot. The exposure to the inactivated influenza virus helps our bodies develop protection by producing antibodies. The amount of antibodies in the body is greatest one to two months after vaccination and then gradually decline. After receiving the flu shot it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop immunity to influenza."

http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/influenza/preventing-influenza.html

So, will we still be giving out voluntary flu shots this year? Absolutely. Do you have to receive one as an employee here? Absolutely not. You are a free American and can chose. Thank you to the men and women who have died to give us that freedom.

Do you get a flu shot each year? Do you believe in vaccinations for adults? What about for children?

Did Myst Change Gaming?

Emily Yoshinda from Grantland wrote an amazing piece on looking back at Myst and reading the work sparked an interesting debate between Maranda and me.

Did Myst open a door for the games that we know today? Or did human nature slam the door in the face of adventure games in the 2000s?

Maranda disagrees with the implication that Myst and games like it went "kaput" after 93.

"Myst brought the entire adventure genre to life and a lot of really amazing games came after it - like the entire series of Lucas Arts adventure games. Somewhere along the line, we stopped wanting to 'thin' to play. We wanted games to be a 'release' and for most of the buying public that meant taking out aggression on alien life forms or unsuspecting 'ladies of the night'."

"What changed? We did. 'Gamer' was a term suddenly applied to teenagers in their basement hopped up on Red Bull and Mountain Dew. It is no longer about "escaping" into a world. Gaming is different now, because we are."

I see the doors that Myst opened, rather than the ones that were closed as these kinds of adventure games faded in popularity.

How many LucasArts games were there after 1993? I agree that Lucas Arts had some great games up until it’s demise this past year. But, the Myst genre pretty much fizzled out. However, I think it was a needed stepping stone for the open world games today.

Games like Halo and Call of Duty allow you to tackle specific challenges in your own way. This is not just a ‘release’ and you have to think, and think quickly. Although there are some games that don’t require thinking, most popular games require more than just button mashing. Add in the open world games like Assassin’s Creed, and you have quite a bit of thinking going on. Games like Myst have pushed creators to make better games that alter the gameplay as well as the graphics performance.

After a spirited debate, it was realized that while the games might have changed, one thing remains the same: We look at games in the perspective of the games we like to play.

Check out this Kickstarter project for Obduction - a new game from the creators of Myst

Will Reading Fiction Make You More Empathetic?

David Kidd and Emanuele Castano released a study regarding fiction and how we experience empathy in others. David and Emanuele show a link between better empathetic skills and "literary" fiction. I can easily see how 'literary' fiction provides different perspectives on people than mainstream fiction. More research is needed to be conclusive, however I do believe as readers we should mix up the genres we read.

Reading is like working out for my brain. When I read non-fiction, I think. When I read business books, I get creative. When I read fiction, I relax (unless it's a tense scene). This is like changing which weights or exercise machine I'm on. I wouldn't stick to just dumbbells for my entire workout. Switch it up.

I also think it is important to pace yourself. Besides the fact that I get heavy lidded after reading for an hour, unless it's a story that I get sucked into, information overload can happen around 60 minutes of straight reading. You need to let that information percolate in your brain for a bit.

Maranda Gibson recently came to the realization that she hasn't learned anything in a long time. "I went to the bookstore and bought three different historical nonfiction novels about the founding of the United States and the Civil War. One is the published diary of a Baton Rouge girl that begins just as Louisiana succeeded from the Union and ends six years later."

"That’s a lot of time to see such a historical event from the perspective of an insider. We often get the watered down, text book history version of slavery and states’ rights. Reading a book like that helps you to remember and understand that for as long as there have been conflicts – there have been two sides of every story."

Social skills are derived from the way we interpret events and in reading any kind of book, whether it be your favorite romance novel or something like a diary of a Civil War survivor, you have to practice the interpretation of events to understand the story.

For Mary Williams, "Reading helps me take a break from my personal life. I like to read anything from suspense novels to science fiction. If I can place myself in the character’s shoes, then it becomes hard for me to put the book down. A good book will allow me to become enveloped in the story and with the characters; almost as if for a moment their life becomes my own. After I'm done reading, I sometimes find myself thinking about situations the character was in and how I might have handled them. And of course, it helps ignite my imagination for my own creative writing."

Reading helps us to learn things, understand people, and escape. Not all genres are alike, and some may be more helpful than others. Do you read only one type of genre? What's your favorite genre to read?

{Image credit to The New Yorker}

Censorship or Just Doing Business?

Book review site GoodReads has caused a stir recently in issuing their new enforcement of comments and reviews on their site. If you read their official statement, it’s clear that these are the policies they have had for a long time, but the announcement of what is tantamount to a crackdown sent cries of censorship into the air.

So the question becomes "is it censorship?"

If I don't like the way a certain business is acting, especially if it is "Corporate Policy", I just take my business elsewhere. With GoodReads, I see it as no different.

What I think GoodReads did wrong was to remove the reviews without warning. GoodReads should have informed the owners of the offending reviews that they would need to be changed or the review would be deleted by a certain date (say, 30 days). On a side note, I don't mind the GoodReads policy of removing reviews that just attack the author.

Show me the content that relates directly to the book. I don't care if the author is a jerk. I want GoodReads to be a place where I find out about books, not author personalities.

Maranda Gibson agrees that it’s the approach that is the problem, not the rules. "You can’t unring a bell and while I support their decision to enforce their rules, a part of managing a community is doing that from the beginning. Goodreads didn’t and now they are getting backlash from trying to clean up a mess they made."

Mary Williams adds, "GoodReads has been around since 2007, so they probably still have things to learn when it comes to community action. The resentment from some of their members about the way they handled removing reviews can be used by the company as a source of what not to do. Giving a fair notice to their members, and allowing their members to correct their reviews, would have been a better way to handle the situation. Hopefully, they will use this experience as a lesson learned and will give their members more notice the next time they make changes to their policy."

Bottom line, this is not a case of censorship. GoodReads, as a business, can create and enforce their policies as they see fit as long as no laws are being broken. It’s the same concept as if someone was walking around a mall with an offensive T-shirt on and asked to either turn the shirt inside-out or leave. It seems this is more of an issue with the way they have handled their policy enforcement. Those who don’t agree with their policy, well they can always go elsewhere.

Common Courtesy for Common Movie Goers

An article on Lit Reactor by John Jarzemsky got us thinking about movies and reading books. There are several die hard movie goers here at AccuConference, along with several die hard readers. Some of us are both.

I agree with John that consuming movies and books is a different experience, and that our brains work differently for each activity. Reading is easier to do with outside distractions (unless it's a non-fiction book I'm reading).

Watching a movie, not so much. Interruptions for television and movies are frustrating for me. So are distractions such as people constantly texting or talking in a movie theater.

One blogger thinks I am wrong, and even goes so far to compare me to slavery advocates of long ago. Yep, you read that right. Anyway, this blogger (who will be getting the Voldemort treatment for this post) even uses example behavior in India to justify what he thinks should be the norm here in the States.

Mary Williams, Operator Extraordinaire here at AccuConference sent me this:

"[name redacted] tries to defend his weak argument by saying that movie goers in India have no problem with these disruptions and it’s their cultural way of life. Which is fine and dandy if you’re in India. What he fails to understand is, this is not India! It is our culture here in America to be courteous when the situation calls for it."

Nice way to put it Mary.

Mary also added:

"Blogger, [name redacted], actually praises cell phone users in the blog he wrote. He says that the movie theater should be treated like every other public space. He also made some questionable comparisons to those he labeled as “shushers” which readers did not take lightly. I whole heartedly disagreed with every aspect of his blog. A movie theater is not like every public space. I don’t pay $10 to go take a walk at the park or to shop at the mall. I pay money to go to a movie theater so I can be completely engaged with the movie. And people like [name redacted] have no respect or consideration for people like me."

Another blog writer, Maranda Gibson, also weighed in. As a lover of both movies and books, she can see a grey area, much like the rebuttal to [name redacted] you can find over on Slate.

"I think movie culture depends a lot on what kind of film you're going to see. I remember when I went to the midnight showing of the first Fast and Furious film - it was loud and exciting with people laughing and clapping. It fit the kind of experience that I wanted to have when I went to see an action film. If I'm going to see a Sunday matinée, I think you have different expectations of the experience. Common sense should play a role in how you react to the film on the screen in a public space."

I tried to find someone, anyone who thought that a movie theater was a place to act however you want. It seems like {name redacted} wrong and that etiquette will still be the norm here in America.

The One Hiring Practice that Reduced Our Turnover

Since 2010, I have changed the way we hire. Previously, we screened potential candidates during the interview only, and we missed some skeletons which later haunted us.

For all new job posts, I add a simple writing assignment. What surprised me the most at first was that only 2% of applicants completed the assignment. I would have thought at least 50% of people wanting a job would read and follow instructions. However, this had an added benefit. It weeded out a lot of bad resumes and saved me a lot of time.

After reviewing the writing assignments, I choose the candidates to interview. One surprising thing was that almost every person I invited to interview would have been a good hire, and it's nice to have to pick between several awesome choices rather than having to settle.

Requiring an assignment for applicants can streamline your hiring process and provide you with the best potential candidates for employment.

Here is our last job post:

How to Apply:

Please submit a cover letter explaining:

  1. Why you want to work in customer support.
  2. Why you want to work at AccuConference and not somewhere else.
  3. A description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.

Also, attach the following writing samples:

  1. Explain why would you encourage someone to use an 800 number for their conferences.
  2. Explain to a customer asking for a lower rate per minute that we are unable to lower their rate.
  3. A company wants a refund because their conference was smaller than they anticipated (we charge a minimum for large calls, even if the customer only has a few people on the call). Explain that this is not refundable.

Send everything above to iwanttowork@AccuConference.com.