Returning Veterans in noncombat car crashes (Read Time 1:33)


Motor vehicle crashes are part of every day life and I have an interest in what causes them and how to reduce them. I’ve been listening to a podcast by Dave Wallace, the Traffic Safety Guy, called Highway to Safety.

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

From a Bradley to a Civy Street

Something I have heard of previously but isn’t front of mind in New Zealand because we are a small country with a small defense force, is what happens when you take someone who has spent 18 months in a combat zone, where they literally have to make split second decisions, and when they come home they pop into the family car to go out for a drive.

When we learn to drive, we learn to look out for animals, for kids running our from behind a bus or an SUV or for drivers of other vehicles driving their cars in an unusual manner, all of which are common day occurrences.

Now take hardened, combat ready veterans who have seen innocent looking situations turn into death traps, where sub second muscle memory instinctive and instant actions can save lives. That family pet lying on the side of the road at home could be a sleeping pet, but in the combat zone, could be a booby trap.

According to a 2009 Army study, quoted in the podcast, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car crashes than the general population. In fact from 1999 through 2012, 4,423 active military personnel died in non combative crashes.

I can’t imagine what it must be like re-integrating between or after terms of duty, but it makes total sense that there is a problem and it is being addressed. A Home Safe, Drive Safe campaign is being adopted by the various sectors of defense in training offered to service people when they return home.

As you will hear in the brief PSA video by Nascar driver Richard Petty, more returned veterans die in their first year back home in motor vehicle crashes than for any other reason.

This is something I have never considered. We hear about all sorts of adjustments people have to make, but next time I hear of a returned soldier who has had a serious accident as a consequence of responding to a situation that would for most of us be a non event, I’ll be wondering if the have had that part of the debrief and are conscious that they are not in a war zone.

So from someone who has never been in that situation, but enjoys living in a free democratic country, I say “Thank you for your service, we want you to stay alive, safe and well.

If you have a story about this topic, I would welcome it if you would like to share an experience or comment.

If Only You Would Listen


Its soapbox time again, but it won’t take long. This is for myself and for the many business people who talk too much.

I’ve been in a lot of business meetings lately, some of them excellent, many of them way too long. This morning I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts Rock the World With LinkedIn on Webmaster Radio which was an interview with the founder of MBAWriters and Director at BT Consulting, Todd Rhoad. Among other things they were talking about the value and importance of eBooks. This is of course something of a hobby horse for me.

I wrote a treatise called Are eBooks Ready to Come of Age and published it 10 years ago. You can get a free PDF copy here.

Anyway, I’ve seen a few eyes glaze over recently in meetings and presentations. It wasn’t that they were unable to comprehend the topics. It was because they had understood long before. There were a few classic sayings towards the end of the podcast, the things smart parents tell their kids. and the things that sales people are taught, well were taught back in the day when sales was considered a profession. Like:

  • The most successful business people keep their mouths shut. I learned that in my second year of my 3 year Sales & Marketing Diploma. I was selling 2-way radios to a sharp businessman. Halfway through my presentation he asked me for the price. I thought I was dealing with the price objection, so I started in on the problems he had told me about and how the features and benefits of our product would help him with those. He asked again for the price. I stopped, a little confused. He asked me again. I told him and he signed a big fat purchase order on the spot. I learned big time from that and always try to remind other people that you have 2 ears and one mouth for a reason and you should use them in that proportion.
  • As Lori said on the podcast (which I strongly recommend you subscribe to, is that you learn more by listening. All you need to to do to get business is listen to what the customer wants, confirm that what they are saying is in fact what they want, then leg them know if you can solve their problem at a rate that is less painful than the problem they want to solve. Then stop talking and get on with doing the business.
  • Smart people are listening and processing what they are being told. As Todd said “With people who are very quiet, you have to be very eager when they pop up and say something, because they’ve been sitting there thinking about it and its probably going to be pretty intelligent.” The flip side of that is think about what you are going to say, don’t speak as you are thinking. Maybe you can’t wait to hear what you are going to say, but your listener may not be as excited unless you are responding to what they are telling you.
  • Another thing I learned many years ago which is obvious, but sometimes you need to think about the obvious, is that we can think much faster than we listen or read. Let your customer listen and if you have a PowerPoint presentation, don’t read them the presentation, they have already read it and are processing it. Glazed eyes again, perhaps thinking about lunch or their next meeting.

I’m going to finish with an old Chicago song I used to love and share with you one great tool that I hear women using all the time, which I call active listening. Do you ever have a conversation with someone, usually a woman and she repeats back to you some of the words you have just said?

“The floods and damage from Cyclone Evan were pretty scary….:

“pretty scary”

“I had some friends who were over there on vacation”

“on vacation, I bet they were wishing they had gone somewhere else”

This is an active conversation and the people doing this are totally engaged. Most people are not totally engaged and are in fact focusing on the next thing they are going to say rather than listening to what their customer or prospect is trying to tell them. Active listening is a really good tool to use because it can stop your mind from wandering off and perhaps missing that clue that your customer is offering you as to why they might want your product. It will also help you understand what your customer is really thinking about and wants. It will let you be ready for buying signals and it will also endear you to the customer because you are showing that you are really interested. If you aren’t interested, then you probably don’t want their business.

Next time you meet someone and they ask how you are, say “Thanks, I’m very, how are you?” If they stop and ask “Very what?” They were listening. Chances are they will say something like “That’s nice”.

Listening for most of us is a skill we need to work on. Very few men, including myself at times, are not great listeners. I have found that the times when people really enjoyed a conversation with me, I actually said very little and I have probably learned a lot.

Coping with stress in Christchurch


Never before have we experienced a situation such as exists in Christchurch today. As was seen on Campbell Live last night people are at breaking point. Even the ambulance officers who were interviews, some of whom  had lost their own homes appeared to be close to losing it, fighting on because they are trained to, because “my uniform says I am there to help”. Men saying they “Cried last week for the first time in 20 years”.

The situation is looking incredibly serious. We have our 2nd largest city full of people suffering from Earthquake Syndrome. Interestingly it is very difficult to find information about the psychological impact from a New Zealand perspective, which I blogged about yesterday it seems as if the authorities are keeping it as quiet as possible, worried that it will get worse if people start talking about it.

In the absence of anything else, I think that is exactly what they should be doing, but more on that in my next blog. Maybe its naive of me, but today as a citizen of NZ with no mandate or authority I emailed Dr Martin Seligman of the Positive Psychology Centre at Penn University. In the US they experience repeated incidents of natural disasters in certain areas and of course with their military forces they also have extensive experience in PTSD. In NZ we really have no skills to understand or deal with repeat natural disasters and their human psychological consequences at a level like this, which in my opinion is why we are doing very little about it. We aren’t coping with the demands of repairing buildings, deciding which suburbs stay or go. We still aren’t dealing with the damage to buildings and the EQC is not paying trades people who are close to losing their businesses for trying to help people keep their homes habitable.

If you haven’t seen the Campbell Live tent recordings where they left people in a tent without any interviewers prompting them, to say how they feel, watch the following video and tell me you are not moved.

Post Traumatic Stress in Christchurch and EQC


I was ashamed and embarrassed a few nights ago. I was lying  alone in bed listening to talk back radio (as my wife was in hospital) and heard a woman from Christchurch talking to host Kerre Woodham about how she had not had any response from EQC or anyone else since the first earthquake.  The bottom of her Kaiapoi house was basically destroyed and she was at her wits end. She was crying and pleaded “I need help”. Kerre handled the situation extremely well, took the woman’s number and said they would do what they could to help her offline.

Then a couple of nights ago I watched TV3′s Campbell Live which interviewed loads of Christchurch residents who were in a similar situations and trades people who were going broke providing plumbing and drainage and other services on behalf of EQC, but had not received any payment from them in some cases dating back to last year’s first quake in September. The head of EQC tried to tell him that they were doing everything they could, but tried to say that it was the worst incident in the world since EQC was founded in 1947, then he said the worst in NZ.

I don’t give a damn how bad it was, that is why NZ taxpayers have been paying EQC levies for years. The whole point of having such an organisation is to ensure that when the inevitable disaster occurs, the country is prepared in every way. This includes experts to evaluate damage, the capital and resources to ensure repairs are made as quickly as possible, no excuses. It doesn’t matter that there was more than one quake, this is what we paid for. So where has the money gone that we paid all these years?

It has been well known by Civil Defence, Police, Health Services and others that it is not just about repairing buildings and digging up liquifaction, its about the people and nothing seems to be happening. Behind closed doors there is talk about increased use of drugs and alcohol, increased domestic violence, people freaking out every time there is another after shake. People don’t know what to do. They can’t leave their broken homes because they have mortgages on them and of course no one wants to buy them.

What we have is a quite unique situation in that we have an enemy we can’t see, situations we can’t predict and the Government and Insurance organisations simply are not prepared. We can’t deal with the physical manifestations and I don’t think we know anything about dealing with the human emotions. Even in the military you know who your enemy is and you can pull out. You have at least a feeling that there is someone in control and whilst they haven’t always been great in dealing with PTSD, they recognise it and have systems in place.

Recently I listened to an excellent Harvard Business Review Ideacast podcast with Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the HBR article Building Resilience. He is also the author of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. He spoke of a new program that they had been working on with the US military, which had amazing results with their soldiers. It was heartwarming. Unfortunately the full report has yet to be released to the US Government, but the anecdotal reports were amazing. This should be something that the NZ Government needs to be looking into.

I look back to the first news coverage where Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and Christchurch Cathedral Dean Peter Beck were saying the bricks and mortar can be replaced, but its the people that matter. Well herein lies my problem. We aren’t even dealing effectively with the buildings. We are hardly touching the broken people! They can only be staunch for so long and if we don’t help them very soon, we are going to have a generation of traumatized people.

So I say to the Government, to EQNZ, to the city councillors, to my fellow Kiwis: This isn’t good enough. No more excuses. We have paid our taxes for years, in good faith expecting that the money would provide for resources and expertise when they were needed. We were told the big one would come and we would be ready. If you can’t deal with it, bring in people and resources who can. We aren’t the only country to have disasters, they happen all over the world, many much worse than Christchurch. Have the grace to accept you don’t know how to deal with the situation and find people who can.

If you can’t do that, its election year and you will have to fall on your swords and we will find others who can. The current situation may not be man made, but our response to it is a disgrace. Kia Kaha Christchurch. Thanks to the media for making us more aware of what is and isn’t happening. Maybe now we need to tell the world stage that we are not coping and we need specialist help.

Have a read of the comments left on Campbell Live’s Facebook Page. This tells the story that our Government departments are not addressing or are trying to minimize. The situation is not under control and it is not just a few people who haven’t been seen to yet. This is a crisis. What are you going to do John Key? The Rugby World Cup will not be enough of a distraction.

The Insurance Aftermath of an Earthquake


First there were several people who had inadequate insurance in Christchurch. I have no idea what the situation is in Japan, but I understand that some of the worst hit were apparently poor communities illustrated by the ease with which the  tsunami washed away the houses.

I think the first thing goes back to my previous blogs on preparation lessons, the aftermath and getting your household ready. The Earthquake Commission is there to help after a natural disaster which isn’t covered by normal household insurance. But the scope was huge. They had over 440,000 claims and even in dealing with those, their liability is up to a maximum of $100,000 for dwellings and $20,000 for personal property. Try building a house for $100,000 or replacing even your basic possessions including appliances, furniture, clothing etc for $20,000. Some people will pretty much walk away with nothing.

Now insurance itself is a risk game and they take our premiums on the expectation that for a large number of people they will never have to pay out. Now I haven’t seen the financials for EQC, but I suspect that most of the money has gone into running the organisation over  the years, especially given that after the event John Key says that the government may have to treble the levy in our taxes for future incidents. Does this mean that we are now going to start to pay for what happened, borrowing from the future because the funds weren’t there? Are wee robbing Peter to pay Paul?

We always knew a major disaster looming. Of course we thought it was most likely to happen in Wellington. It hasn’t, which of course doesn’t mean it won’t because Christchurch and Wellington are on different fault lines. But I would have thought with years and years of taxes and no major incidents, EQC would have been flush with funds.

Anyway, back to the present. If you don’t have adequate insurance to cover everything, think again and do what you can, even if money is tight, things could get a whole lot worse. I hate insurance. I was once asked to do a whole lot of psych tests by an insurance company who thought I would be a star life sales person. The idea of selling life policies to my friends was anathema but I loved tests, so I spent a whole day doing the tests and they came back apparently saying I would be hugely successful. I declined despite the offer of a big package. Today I wonder if I should have taken the money, because I better appreciate the importance of insurance. It’s a gamble by both parties, both hoping we will never be in a position to need the cover.

I have life, income protection, health, car, house and contents policies and it eats up a lot of money. So far the insurance companies have enjoyed a lot of meals from my table, but if something major did happen, I feel secure that if my company closed for 6 months because its buildings ceased to exist, if I was injured or ill long term, or if my house washed away in a tsunami, I could rebuild. As the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral said, its the people that matter, the church can be rebuilt.

One concern I had with the aftermath was seeing people throw away their household appliances, carpets, furniture etc and wondering how they would be able to prove what they had lost. The share scale meant that many people had to do that, but it does show the value of having a list of your possessions and also photos. I once had a software app that did that, but never fully used it. Another thing to my be prepared list methinks.

 

Household devastation after the earthquake

So I recommend you grab a digital camera or video camera at least, so that you can go through each room and record your possessions and the state of your property, so that you will have proof in the unlikely event that you could need it. Then store the information somewhere safe. I used to keep my songs in safe deposit on video, with the bank, some people thought I was stupid, but again its just insurance.

Enough for now. I hope I’ve given you some more food for thought. Here’s some fond memories of mine of Christchurch a couple of years ago, with a song I am still writing.

 

Robots to learn human emotions


At the University of Hertfordshire they have been working on a model of children’s early attachment behavior for robots. Their goal is to apply nature and nurture with artificial intelligence so that robots can become caregivers for children in hospital.

“What the Hal?” I thought when I read about this in The Futurist. If you follow my blog, you will have read previous posts such as the one I wrote about Singularity. AI is obviously going to come, but the concept of nurture applied to a robot is something I struggle with, especially with children and even more so sick children who are in pain or stressed.

In principle the idea of a robot that can play games with children, have unlimited patience and intelligence, makes total sense and is a great idea. But when it comes to EQ, I’m not sure how it would interpret immature and potentially irrational behavior.

There have been a number of studies suggesting that children and even teenagers are often unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Many people argue that risk taking is a natural growth path in the development from children to adults. This makes me wonder what would happen if robots learn from children and interpret their behavior as normal. Imagine for example if a robot goes from learning paper, rock scissors, as in this video and then learns to pillow fight or throw objects, from the children.

I’m not being a Luddite, I love new technology, but I do have some concerns about singularity and whilst I would love a robot to vacuum, mow the lawns, cook and do other chores for me, I would prefer them without the emotional senses.

I’ll leave the last word to HAL 9000

Would you like HAL looking after your sick child?

On Human Singularity, IQ and EQ


Barton Kunstler wrote an enlightening article in The Futurist entitled The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario, where amongst other insightful information, he pondered the question of how technologically enhanced people in a workplace environment would interact with ‘normal individuals’. It gave me a number of EUREKA moments that I may or may not get into in this blog.

In the latest copy of IT Brief a publication of Action Media, the editorial by Clare Coulson talked about IQ and EQ and how they often don’t come together. This is very true, but there is a tension that Barton Kunstler picked up on wasn’t so much the problem for people with high IQ, but with their ‘peers’ acceptance or intimidation, intolerance by people who might feel threatened by their enhanced capabilities.

He postulated that management in a traditional environment, which evolved as an “efficient survival and social-enhancement mechanism. He suggested that human beings who  had enhanced mental, perceptual and physiological capability would totally disrupt the status quo.

My take from this was that the lack of EQ in the average manager would consider these people known as ESI’s or enhanced singular individuals as a threat, which from an instinctive perspective, in the evolved human brain could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and the ‘superior’ position of today’s ‘Manager’, which could be in fact any person in an authority position.

This could be a fatal flaw and will be a major problem faced in all areas where people are bred or enhanced to have a higher intellect. This could be simply a greater ability to use their natural intelligence, or a connection to external intelligence such as a computer. I don’t want to go into the feasibility of this in this blog, because I have already covered this to some degree in my previous blog, Singularity and ESI’s, which talked about people who have lost limbs and can control prosthesis’ with their brains, which is already relatively common place.

So if we assume this is possible and perhaps already taking place in the labs at DARPA and other well financed institutions, then how can we deal with this problem? The first aspect of this is defining the problem. Is the problem that people with high IQ’s, don’t have high EQ, or is it that the people who don’t have a high IQ don’t have high EQ either?

A progressive manager in today’s world, will employ best of breed staff on the basis that the better the people in his employ, the more successful the business will be and the more that will reflect on him or her. The traditional manager will not want people smarter than they are and will feel threatened by them. I believe the latter is more prevalent, certainly from my personal experience.

An argument that many people put forward is that people with high IQ’s don’t have high EQ (required for rational human type problem solving). In some cases that is true. There are many case studies of people who were encouraged at an early age to study hard, be it music, maths, linguistics, what they studied doesn’t really matter, it was their inherent ability to study and I suspect that those people would have been good at what ever discipline they chose. So we see students going to university at the age of 13 or 14.

Many of these kids have degrees before their age group peers finish high school. In many cases they are poorly tolerated by their fellow university students, who can’t relate to them and drift into a lonely life. The relating makes sense, the social life of an average aged university student is very different to a pubescent teenager. They are barely emotionally compatible and some parents do their best to ensure that young gifted children in this situation still get to play sport and enjoy their childhood, which in some cases is very successful, but those children often find that they are intellectually so far ahead of the others, that they find the chatter childish and can no longer relate, so they are left in limbo.

Most public education systems lack support for gifted children and a common thread is that gifted children suffer from asynchronous development and that they need to stay within their own age group in order to develop social behaviors, physical coordination and dexterity and emotional maturity. They may lift them a level above their age group, but little more is done for them. Many gifted children are home schooled where they come from parents who were also intellectually gifted and learned from the lack of support they grew up with.

A serious problem I see for the future is intolerance of gifted people, or holding them back, limiting their independence and controlling what they can and can’t do.

For example, in the military, they are looking at developing combat personnel with extreme strength, fast reactions and reasoning. But what traditional military leader who has worked their way up the ranks is going to accept a junior ESI telling them what to do? This is highly unlikely and will cause all sorts of stress.

I can see more success in the fields of science, but if and when ESI’s are developed, however that takes place, there is going to be a serious ‘Us and Them’ situation taking place and this will lead to workforce and community problems between the enhanced humans and as Kunstler calls them, the ‘Norms’.

Living in New Zealand, we have an endemic Tall Poppy Syndrome attitude towards people who appear to be brighter than others, or more likely to over achieve. It is interesting that Wikipedia singles out the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand as being countries that particularly single out overachievers, unless it is in the area of sport.

Kiwis will celebrate intelligence after the event, but often it takes a little help along the way. Ernest Rutherford was credited with having a gifted teacher, who helped him on his way to splitting the atom.

Other Kiwi children with high intelligence have had different experiences. For example a child who was exhaustively tested for 2 weeks by the Psychology Department of Auckland University and told he had an IQ of in excess of 165, was frequently bullied by a teacher who was incensed with being corrected by a child of 11. According to one web site, Einstein’s IQ was 160 as was Bill Gates. Charles Darwin apparently ranked 165. This student, as a result of school zoning was sent to a school with a brilliant history of rugby success, but a very poor academic record and certainly no support for a child who was reading and understanding Kafka and cosmic string theory.

Another common experience in New Zealand colleges is where children have been  threatened by their lesser performing peers that they will be beaten up if their exam results are significantly higher. In many Kiwi schools, getting on the 1st 15 in rugby is a far more highly praised achievement, yet those with intellectual prowess could well be the ones to combine Kiwi ingenuity with intelligence to build the country up as a knowledge society.

I want to ponder this some more, because ESI’s are being ‘created’ as I write this and the problem is, as Kunstler identified: How can ESI’s and Norms coexist? It doesn’t take a super brain to known that human’s are damaging our planet. Humans are a wonder of nature and their ascendancy to governing and damaging the planet is perhaps a result of their poor EQ. Logic might suggest that humans are bad for the longevity of life on earth. An ESI might decide that the best way to deal with this situation is to control the norms or eliminate them.

Note to self, read Vernor Vinge and see what he has to say, because the common thread that comes to me so often is Science Fiction becoming reality.

Perhaps what we need is another disruption to deal with the disruption. In effect take away the threat of human singularity, while embracing it’s ability to do good, rather than making better combat warriors.

The last word today goes to the many New Zealand Members of Parliament who abused their privileges and ministerial credit cards in droves. It appears that they have been rorting the system for years, but over the last year, have been getting caught out on everything from $1,000 lunches to buying themselves things like a new set of golf clubs. Add that to listening to them on radio or watching them on Parliament TV, you would have to wonder if EQ is on their qualification set.

The power of other people’s opinions or bias


I had the opportunity to attend the Time Convention in Auckland, New Zealand today, which was a great opportunity to step out of my normal day and have time to think. I didn’t learn much, but it did remind me about things I know I should be doing, but don’t spend enough time at. I used my Blackberry to take notes which I emailed to myself, as it doesn’t have a notepad or Word application, as my trusty Windows Mobile and Palm handhelds used to.

The final presentation, that I very much enjoyed was from Kevin Billett who, while promoting a 2 day seminar for next week, came up with some thought provoking concepts about taking responsibility for attitudes and accepting experiences that you allow to have control over your life expectations and achievements. This set me to thinking about aspects of my experiences, particularly as a child, that have I have allowed to hold me back in some of my endeavours, but that’s another story.

He raised a topic that has interested me for many years, which is the effect that people’s expectations or opinions about other people, influence them in many ways.

There are countless examples. John’s Hopkins researchers recently found that many physicians had negative attitudes to patients with obesity problems, which negatively affected these patients to the extent that their problems worsened.

There have been many studies that show that a teacher’s expectations of their students, irrespective of any basis on which those expectations were founded, had a significant impact on their results. I recall being told, although I can’t site the source, of a university study that proved this point. If you know of the study, please share it with me.

A group of students of equal ability were split into two groups. The teachers were told that one group was of above average capability and the other were below average potential. The groups were taught the same lessons by the same teachers. Their results were consistent with the information the teachers had been given, those who they said were above average, performed above average and the others under performed.

The world of elite sport is often built around belief that people of the right proportions can become medal winning athletes, even if they have never participated in that sport before. Sir Steve Redgrave has selected people based on height, with a view to having them represent their country in the 2012 Olympics. For rowing, the expectation is that tall people have powerful levers suited to the sport. One would not think that this alone could not be enough, but combine that with the positive expectation that they will become medal winners and history has proven that this can work.

The same occurs in gymnastics, where girls are headhunted at an early age based on being short and enjoying sport. I’ve seen from personal experience that girls who are told they can do things, outperform girls of similar strength and flexibility who are told that they aren’t good enough. What I saw was the same thing, girls over whom coaches had high expectations performed confidently, had less injuries and ended up on elite squads.

Psychology 101 has always featured nature and nurture. In any country where people are to some degree living in communities featuring high proportions of particular minority ethnic groups, there is a tendancy for them to be poorly represented in professions and overly represented in menial work. Students’ expectations in these areas are low, often fostered by teachers who have low expectations of their wards.

I won’t go on with this topic. I would appreciate your opinions and experience. Have you seen this happen first hand?