Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

Psychology

The dangers of using that Facebook personality game

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
Image by  Ludovic Bertron  used under Creative Commons License

Image by Ludovic Bertron used under Creative Commons License

Tends to find fault with others o these questions look familiar?

  • Tends to find fault with others
  • Is relaxed, handles stress well
  • Is emotionally stable, not easily upset
  • Is easily distracted
  • etc

A large percentage of Facebook users have played with these "personality analysis" games at least once in their life (some do them regularly). Why not? It's a fun way of finding out if a "test" will evaluate you the same way you evaluate yourself... right? WRONG!

These online games and questionnaires are known as the OCEAN test and rate you against 5 psychological traits:

  1. Openness
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism

What may seem like a fun way to spend a few minutes and then boast to your friends about the results may be a firm performing deep psychometric analysis of you. 

We believe companies like Cambridge Analytica have been using these Facebook games as a toolkit to build psychological profiles representing millions of users worldwide. 

The company claimed it had data on around 230 million adults in the USA and approximately 4000 “data points” on every one of them, including gym and club memberships, charity donations, and card transactions.
— First Post, https://goo.gl/SxG5dK

They collect this incredible treasure trove of data by creating enticing Facebook games and questionnaires. Usually they provide a quick peak at your OCEAN score summary but then using Facebook tools, they can associate that psychological snapshot with your Facebook profile and real name. This link to your online/offline self is what makes this practice controversial and the term used to describe it is onboarding.

Cambridge Analytica has said they have 3000-5000 data points for each of the 230 million psychological profiles they track. These data points may include age, income, debt, hobbies, criminality, purchase history, religious/secular beliefs,etc.

The pedigree

Cambridge Analytica is a spin-off of British firm SCL (Strategic Communication Laboratories  https://goo.gl/iuh9gz) which is known tp have performed PsyOps (Psychological Operations) counter-terrorism in war torn countries like Afghanistan.

The Trump efffect

During the last hotly contested US election, the media repeated a fact over and over "that the trump campaign wasn't using traditional media advertising". The media was right. Instead of traditional macro targeting, Trump turned to Cambirge Analytica (first used by his adversary Cruz) to win voters or dissuade voters of his opposition.

When you bake a good cake it’s the sum of the ingredients ... it’s actually flour, and eggs, and ginger, and everything else. And that’s what we’re looking at,[...]
— Alexander Nix, CEO Cambridge Analytica to NBC News - https://goo.gl/uqs0GA

The real problem lies with lax privacy laws implemented in the US. In Europe, most countries have strict data protection and privacy laws severely limiting the second or third hand use of personal data about their citizens. The US has no such protection for its population which means data brokers can access a treasure trove of (often) very private and personal data about its targets. This is how true, powerful and proven micro-targeting is implemented at its best.

Facebook is doing very well. They successfully moved to mobile and their increased profitability from advertising shows it. They are sticky now with 1.71 billion monthly active users. Stickiness doesn't tell the true story. The question is how much was each user worth to Facebook? 

  • A global user generates $3.82 a user per year (up from $2.76 a year ago)
  • A USA user generates $14.34 a user per year (up from $9.30)

The power of Facebook advertising isn't so much the reach but the micro-segmentation it makes available is. This micro-segmentation is possible because facebook knows who you are, where you live/work, who your friends are, what you like/dislike, how much you make and much more. I wrote an article entitled Facebook knows more about you than you realize

What are dark posts?

To continue the discussion, we need to talk about something called Dark Posts or Dark Ads. In simple term, they are posts using news feed style layouts visible in your feed but not actually posted in it. Confused yet? Because they aren't traditional advertising posts cluttering up your newsfeed, you are less likely to "hide" the advertising which otherwise would look like spam. Imagine how powerful this becomes for companies performing A/B testing.  They could run multiple ads against the same person in one day without looking like SPAM.

Think of these as special newsfeed items seen only by the person being targeted, all the wile looking like "normal" posts (not jumping out as advertising) and being temporary. 

Let's make the cake

So take the power of Cambridge Analytica and merge it with the hidden advertising of Facebook dark posts and this is (we believe) what allowed Trump's digital marketing team to serve the right ad to the right voter at the right time. 

A good example is the divisive issue of gun ownership. A gun owner profiled to be anti-establishment could be shown ads about how the opposition wants to weaken the USA by taking guns away (the national anthem playing in the back with a flag waving in the wind). A gun owner with strong religious family values could be shown a pleasant message about how father and son could bond over hunting, alone in the wilderness [but that the opposition would make guns illegal and take this beautiful bonding opportunity away].

Dark ads with good psychological profiles can also be used to create apathy and encourage some opponent voters not to turn out therefore reducing the power of the opponent. Trump created anti Hillary ads pushing out negative messages (Hillary claimed to carry hot sauce with her (link))

Conclusion

What may seem as a simple and fun way to spend 5 minutes could allow a company, well funded group or government to psychologically manipulate you without you ever becoming consciously aware. 

I hope that by sharing this blog article, you will be a little more careful and a lot more distrustful about what you see on Facebook.

How to thrive under pressure

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment

Your body is a miraculous creation that is able to quickly adapt to different situations often without you even realizing it. When working in pressure situation, your body reacts by making physiological changes [for the worst] that also impact how you think. Truth is pressure is the new normal and you must learn to deal with it or it will crush you. 

Here are simple steps to help you conquer any pressure situation:

Be in the moment

As an IT professional, I have seen the effect of extreme pressure on experts handling large and complex IT outages or security incidents. Even the most expert professional can find themselves in a vortex of destruction. If I notice people going down the wrong path, I try to help them centre themselves and concentrate on this moment. 

I ask them to sit down and find an object they can concentrate on. I ask them to find a small spot on that object and to stare at it. I ask them to then be mindful of their breathing. To concentrate on long inhalations, to hold it and then to do a long exhale. I ask them to keep looking at that spot and to feel their body breathing. To feel their chest expanding and contracting.

Gratitude

When you are under stress, your body releases cortisol. This is what fuels the fight or flight response and isn't ideal when the situation requires deep thought and solid reasoning. 

Once we complete the first breathing step. I then work with the person to find out what they are grateful for. Research has shown that gratitude can reduce the level of cortisol by 23%. Even when things seem very bad, there are always things to be grateful for. Think about what is going right, even when it seems there isn't much. 

As an example, there are large forest fires in Fort McMurray right now forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. It is a horrible situation but if I were a family being forced out of my house, I would also be grateful that i was with my family and they are safe. I would be thankful that I had a car that is allowing me to evacuate. You get the idea. regardless of how bad things may seem at first, there is always something to be grateful for.

Prioritize

When under extreme pressure, the situation may seem hopeless and you may lose track of what really is important. IT is important to take a step back and put things into perspective. My mantra is "this isn't brain surgery". I recommend you sit down in a quiet area and (once you have done the breathing exercise) ensure you are working on the right priorities. It is easy to get "mixed up" and focus on the wrong things when under extreme pressure. We tend to fix the thing that is the latest and loudest. 

Surround yourself with the right people

We were handling a major datacenter outage a couple of years ago and the entire tech team was struggling to figure out what was going on. As I observed the lead, I realized he was getting too stressed and was starting to make "less rational" decisions. I took him aside and guided him through the first 2 steps. Once he was calm, I asked him to perform the prioritization activity alone in an isolated room and he did an excellent job. As soon as I put him back in the control room, things started to boil over again and I realized it was partially due to the amount of technical people around him being overly pessimistic. 

I replaced to people with fresh non negative experts and realized the lead was now "more in control" and less stressed. Moral of the story is to take the time and ensure you are surrounded by the right people. If there are people being overly negative, push them away and you will see the level of pressure diminish greatly.

Take a break

You may be under pressure because you are handling a major situation or because your boss expects a major deliverable in a short window and key information may be missing. Regardless of why you are under pressure, sometimes you have to take a short break and change your mindset. Once you perform the above steps, it is also important to stop, walk away from the situation and do something that changes your mood, mindset and situation.

Let's say you are working on an important report, information is missing, people are not cooperating and your boss is breathing down your neck. You may be a little stressed. You will feel pressured to perform. Make sure you follow the above steps, then determine an interval at which you will step away from your desk and go for a short walk.

As an example, my personal limit is 45 minutes. After 45 minutes of straight undivided concentrated work, I will typically walk away for 5 minutes and do something else. The something else may be a short walk in the office, a trip to get a coffee, sit outside and take a breath of fresh air, etc.

You will be energized when you get back and be much more productive. The complaint I hear too often is I can't go because there is too much work. Research has shown that not taking these short breaks will actually hurt your productivity and the stress will also dull your abilities,

 

Daydreaming - the untold secret to success

HealthEdward KiledjianComment

When  I was in elementary school, teacher actively discouraged daydreaming. They refereed to it as a "lack of attention" and a "waste of time". As we got older, we kept these negative beliefs about daydreaming which may adversely impact our intelligence and overall mental well-being.

Thinkers from the past have often defined daydreaming as a gateway to unconscious processing. It is a way to engage your subconscious mind (or other than conscious mind) to tackle all kinds of problem through improved creativity. T.S. Eliot called it  "idea incubation" while Lewis Caroll called it "mental mastication".

Then in the 50's, Jerome L Singer, a Yale psychologist,  put daydreaming through the scientific ringer and published his findings in 1975 in a book entitled "The Inner World of Daydreaming". Singer defined 3 categories of daydreaming:

  1. Positive Constructive Daydreaming - this is a positive constraint free model in which you experience playful, vivid imagery that encourages creative thought
  2. Guilty Dysphoric Daydreaming - This is a type veterans with PTSD sometimes experience which is driven by ambition, anguish and pain. It allows the dreamer to experience heroism, pain or relive a past trauma.
  3. Poor Attentional Control Daydreaming - Typically this is driven by distraction when people have difficulty concentrating. Sometime this is caused by Attention Deficit Disorder or identified as such.

Rebecca McMillan and Scott Kaufman wrote a paper entitled "Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming" (link) which talks about the benefits of the first style of daydreaming. They explain how it is not only beneficial but essential to making people happy, creative and empowered.

An interesting excerpt from the paper says

"Future planning which is increased by a period of self-reflection and attenuated by an unhappy mood; creativity, especially creative incubation and problem solving; attentional cycling which allows individuals to rotate through different information streams to advance personally meaningful and external goals; and dishabituation which enhances learning by providing short breaks from external tasks, thereby achieving distributed rather than massed practice"

They continue in the same thought direction

"These mental activities are, in fact, central to the task of meaning making, of developing and maintaining an understanding of oneself in the world"

Another study published in Psychological Science (link) from researcher from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science posits that daydreaming (or sometime called mind wandering) " correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory". This is the type of memory with the ability to retain and recall information when actively distracted.

Daydreaming isn't free because it requires time and it requires that you give yourself permission to daydream (which isn't as easy as it sounds). You have to be able to daydream without feeling guilty for wasting time. Once you are able to daydream freely, you will start seeing huge benefits. It may be as simple as a mental vacation during a stressful day, daydreaming about an upcoming presentation you have (aka mental preparation), to dynamically work through complicated unrelated information or a freestyle session which bolsters memory and creativity.

"Encourage your kids to daydream. Encourage your employees to take time out of their day to daydream. Encourage yourself to daydream." -Edward N Kiledjian

You make bad decisions when too much info is available

Leadership StrategiesEdward KiledjianComment

We live in the information age where almost anything can be researched and learned from the massive information superhighway. But is too much information a bad thing?

Psychology today has an interesting article that claims the more we learn, the harder it becomes to make a decision. Pushing the point just a little more: more information may encourage us to make a worse decision.

The article is worth reading and one paragraph that stood out at me was this:

"The human mind hates uncertainty. Uncertainty implies volatility, randomness, and danger. When we notice information is missing, our brain raises a metaphorical red flag and says, "Pay attention. This could be important."

If information overload leads to bad decisions, then why do we do it? They have a great explanation

Learning is associated with the release of dopamine, the same as powerful drugs like cocaine. It's why we are so vulnerable to an Internet rife with attention parasites that leave us worse for the wear.

They also state that humans tend to over-estimate the value of missing information. Any time we feel info is missing, our subconscious assumes it must be useful. The moral of the story is to consciously decide how much information you really need to make a good decision and stick to your plan.

I wonder if we will ever see people claiming to be "Information Addicts". Do we need to create a 12-step program for information addiction? LOL

Try something new to re-energize yourself

ProductivityEdward KiledjianComment

We are creatures of habit and sometimes nothing can be more energizing that trying something pleasurable and new. Find something you have wanted to do for a while and just commit to getting it done ASAP (start it as soon as possible).

You will get a rush of the happiness hormone (dopamine). For some people, this becomes the catalyst that launches them in a new and better direction. It is a simple yet very powerful idea.