What Scientists Now Know About Repairing Memories

Smithsonian Magazine • 21 June 2013

Mind bending. "Your memory is who you are now." Check out this fascinating recap of the latest research on memory, which is now thought to be much more malleable than the earlier filing cabinet system concept. Most surprising takeaway—the connection between memory decline and tooth loss.

Fascinating stuff. Before you skip this and move on, go to this storytelling event by Daniela Schiller, whose work underpins most of what is reported here, you will be captivated. And in the matter of reconsolidating a memory each time it is recalled you might find these artworks based on brain scans by my friend Laura Jacobson intriguing. (Michalko)

Why Is It So Hard to Hire Great People?

The Atlantic • 21 June 2013

Hit and miss. How do you recognize talent? Google senior VP Laszlo Bock says a companywide study several years ago found no correlation between interview scores and job performance: "It's a complete random mess." Read on to find out why it's easier to spot potential star-power on the basketball court than the gridiron—and how to apply the underlying concept to hiring decisions in your organization.

Read the original interview in which the Google VP admits their brain-teasing questions were useless other than for making the smart aleck interviewers feel better, and explains why structured behavioral interviews work pretty well. (Michalko)

Think Inside the Box

The Wall Street Journal • 14 June 2013

Digital legacy. Creativity in the comfort zone. Marketing professors Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg advocate "thinking inside the proverbial box, not outside of it" for maximum creativity. Check out their examples of ways companies successfully have used internally focused strategies to improve existing products, launch new ones and leverage opportunities.

This article has a nice taxonomy of product creativity. Attribute dependency describes a category where the product gets better because it changes when something in the surrounding environment changes. For instance, those eyeglasses that lighten and darken or the Thermos that knows whether you’ve put hot or cold liquids into it (joke). (Michalko)

Turn It Up: How the Right Amount of Ambient Noise Increases Creativity


Distracted focus. Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that a little background noise can boost creative output. The experiment involved four groups of participants, each subjected to a different noise level (including silence) while performing a word-association task, and it turns out that 70 decibels—similar to an average coffee shop's background chatter—is optimal. Read on for more on how "distracted focus" can help encourage abstract thinking.

Okay I tried all of the ambient web sites suggested here while writing up this issue. The coffee shop one seemed pretty comfortable to me. The raining one not so much. Maybe it's a northern California preference. And yay for calling out Brian Eno's Music for Airports. I've loved that for many years. (Michalko)

Big Data Meets the Bard

Financial Times • 15 June 2013

Literary license. As humanities departments turn to data-crunching in their quest for academic validation, literature is no exception. Recent studies include insights gleaned through computer analysis of phrases, titles and word usage—so-called "distant reading." Some critics note that the trend simply reflects a paucity of imagination and new material. After all, "There are only so many ways you can keep saying Proust is great," says author Jonathan Franzen.

You've likely come across both Moretti and Jockers the two stars of "distant reading" but this is an intelligent summary from the popular press. You could bypass it and go directly to the very amusing video of Kurt Vonnegut diagramming the shapes of stories to be fed into a computer. (Michalko)

The Gift of Doubt

The New Yorker • 24 June 2013

Silver linings. Check out Malcolm Gladwell's profile of Albert O. Hirschman, a polymathic economist who loved to analyze the paradoxes spawned by unintended negative consequences. Hirschman noted that even really awful decision-making can ultimately bring about positive results, not because leaders were seeking a challenge, but because of "the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be." Next time an organizational strategy backfires, remember Hirschman's philosophical approach to life and look for positive, as well as negative, outcomes. (Bonus—the mini-bio of Hirschman's peripatetic life and passions.)

A book review that Gladwell has dressed up into one of his well-regarded long-form essays. Start it. You'll almost certainly read to the end. (Michalko)

Above the Fold Quiz

According to an item in this week's News and Views section, where can you discover strategies for providing efficient and affordable interlending of actual physical items from special collections?

Get the answer.