Category Archives: Cognition

Impressions of “Leadership Therapy: Inside the Mind of Microsoft,” by Anna Rowley

This year I visited Shanghai in order to visit my wife’s cousin. While there I also had the opportunity to visit a classmate of mine, who is married to one of the most interesting men I have ever met. This man is a personality psychologist who is in private practice, consulting with large corporations. We talked about our lives, and he suggested that I read Leadership Therapy: Inside the Mind of Microsoft, a review copy of which he was recently given.

My take on Leadership Therapy is generally negative. But the page shows only five-star reviews. Therefore, while my review is negative, others have clearly found something in the book.

My biggest gripe about Leadership Therapy is that it strikes me as a rip-off of Jim Collins From Good to Great. I had the definite feeling that Rowley was using the angle of psychowhatever (she claims to follow the pseudoscience of psychotherapy in addition to the science of psychology) to simply transliterate Collins’ business book into therapeutic terms.

If you want to read some great self-help books, check out From Good to Great or Linchpin, or listen to the Dave Ramsey Show. If you want to read about Microsoft, The Microsoft Way and I Sing The Body Electronic both provide astonishingly intimate perspectives.

I rate Leadership Therapy 2 stars out of 5.

Two self-efficacy stories

1. Kids who are paid to study study more

Pretty obvious. Wise educators should align extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, at least when dealing with children who are not able to make the decision to learn by themselves.

Specifically, educators of children should pay them to study, while demonstrating to the students that their efforts will pay off (literally!)

2. Most blogs are abandoned

Creative bloggers need to not only master their craft and gain the attention of their peers: first, they need to keep trying, in spite of many failed attempts at meaningful attention.

Both of these stories are courtesy of Slashdot: News for Nerds.

The Strategic Worth of John Boyd

A new book is out about John Boyd: The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy and War. I wrote that first chapter of the book, so obviously I am pushing it. The book is itself a collection of responses to Col. Dr. Frans Osinga’s book on Boyd, Science, Strategy, and War, which itself follows two book-length biographies: Boyd and The Mind of War. There is a yearly conference on John Boyd: Boyd ’07 was at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia, while Boyd ’08 will be on Prince Edward Island.

Roundtable has brought out critics too. Galrahn at Information Disemmenination is unconvinced:

If you are a Boyd “disciple” please leave a comment, and tell me how you think Boyd applies to the strategic discussion on this blog. I’ll be unconvinced by your comment until I do my homework, but nonetheless I was talking to a very smart guy in the Pentagon last month, and we were discussing naval strategy for small wars and small ships. During the conversation I got unnerved when he brought up John Boyd in his arguments. He didn’t introduce anything I had not previously heard about Boyd, but when talking strategy I intend to always be the guy well rooted in history and study.

The Small Wars Council is home to similar opinions:

What continues to puzzle me is the almost Jesus-like devotion to the man by certain groups and organizations, like DNI and others. Reading some of the fanboi material I am wondering what he has done besides develop the OODA loop that makes him worthy of such reverence.

Boyd’s contributions come in two main forms: The Energy-Maneuverability Theorem (EMT) which is a technical model beyond the scope of this blog, and the OODA dual-processing model of human behavior. EMT is useful, but beyond thsoe who buy, use, and shoot at jet fighters has limited relevance. OODA is true, but perhaps not useful.

John Boyd’s OODA model beat mainstream psychologists to the punch by one or two years. Boyd’s problem is that (a) he did not present his work in a way that allowed it to be integrated into the social science mainstream, (b) did not provide a method for crticisism or overturning his conclusions, and (c) “reinvented the wheel” by using new terminology to describe old views of war.

Zenpundit has more. As does HG’s World and Selil.

Boyd and the Quantitative Revolution

First impressions of the new book, The John Boyd Roundtable: Debating Science, Strategy, and War are popping up all over the blogosphere. On the second day of its general availability, both Mike Tanji add their thoughts. My chapter in the Roundtable, the History of the OODA loop, was based on an earlier post on my blog.

As was this piece, which criticized the usefulness of the OODA loop:

While I’ll always be a fan of the OODA loop, a great conceptual model of human cognition, it does not help me in predicting outcomes. That’s why I generalized Horn et al to create a domain-knowledge/general-ability/motivation/behavior model of performance.

The OODA loop is certainly a “true” model of two-system processing, where a good Orientation can allow you by bypass conscious Decision making. However, it does not have a good way of telling reasonable applications from just-so stories.

Boyd’s OODA loop was a product of the Cognitive Revolution, that burst through psychology discovering internal mental processes that mediated behavior. However, the OODA loop may become a victim of the Quantitative Revolution, that is currently overthrowing much of the academy and the public schools, and is needed for any form of quality control. As OODA is described as a reaction to the Zero-Defect mentality, an early attempt to bring the Quantitative Revolution to military affaris, this would be an ironic fate.

The Unfairness of Working Memory

Several interrelated posts this morning, including “Intelience and the President of the United States, “Capturing my Thoughts: How could Demographic Warfare me used with 5GW?,” “Fixing Milwaukee Notes: Milwaukee School District Governance,” and “U.S. college panel calls for less focus on SATs.”

The topics all revolve around Working Memory, the capacity of the adult to keep 7 (ish) things in mind at the same time. Some people have more, some have less. Working memory is heritable and impacts life outcomes. Working memory is not “fair.” It is predicted by your class origin, your socio-economic status, your race, and so on while its variance is predicted by your sex. (Being male is risky business.)

Many social problems will be eleviated when we can use retroviruses or stem cell therapy to increase the working memory of the underclass. At the same time, any individual with low working memory can more than compensate by building up his long-term memory (his knowledge and experience), his self-efficacy (how he responds to failure), and his behavior.

The OODA Loop and Creativity, Try 2

Afer heavily revising my original work tying together the OODA loop to creativity, it has become clear that the project will involve much more than a few references in another paper. So I’m removing it from my current draft, but (for posterity) here were my final thoughts on Creativity in the context of OODA, at least before my work on the taxonomies of creativity changed my perspective.

The OODA loop was originally described to assist in understanding the nature of creativity (Coram, 2002). Creative thoughts, according to Boyd (1992), “permit us to rematch our mental/physical orientation [with the outside world] and grow” in the world (24). Before individuals can be creative, they must be experts. This requires reorientation. However, reorientation that leads to creativity is difficult because expertise requires considerable practice outside of an educational setting. Fortunately, educational psychology’s initial work on dual processing presents a way forward.
Modern research views creativity as a subset of expertise. This formulation is expanded on at length in Herbert Simon’s exploration of creativity in the arts and sciences . Expertise is defined by strong problem solving ability in a particular field, meaning quick scanning of a problem space for any of a large number of remembered patterns (Simon, 2001). Expertise tends to require more than ten years to develop, and a narrowness of focus that can involve both personal and intellectual sacrifices including slowed or reduced growth in other fields that are not focused on or practiced (Simonton, 2003).
The importance of reorientation in creativity is stressed by a recent overview of the growing literature on cognitive load. For instance, van Merrienboer & Sweller (2005) write that “expertise comes from knowledge stored in [long term memory] schemata, not from an ability to engage in reasoning with many elements that have not been organized in long-term memory. Human working memory simply is not able to process many elements” (149-150). Similarly, Sweller (2004) describes how random variations in ideas are necessary for creative products to be new, and not mere memories. The product of such thinking is “change via novelty” (20). Likewise, cognitive load describes originality is seen as random variations in the expression of long-term memory, and original ideas are kept or lost depending on their fitness in the landscape of thought (Sweller, 2004; van Merrienboer & Sweller, 2005). Yet as randomness in thought is assumed to be constant among all individuals, what makes those new ideas more likely to be useful is whether they are grounded in an orientation rich in relevant long term memory.
The scale of the difficult in encouraging creativity is gleaned from a recent discussion on minimal guidance instruction (Kirschner, Sweller, & Clark, 2006). Directly addressing the question of discovery-based styles of instruction, Kirschner and colleagues distinguish expert from novice operating styles. Summarizing research on the expert/novice divide, the authors conclude that attempting to become an expert by replicating the style of experts is not a productive strategy. Yet in an increasingly complex world where many learners will go on to perform tasks that do not currently exist, some form of discovery-based learning will be necessary for the development of expertise in these fields of the future. The task of the educator is not enviable.
Fortunately, educational psychology’s early approaches to dual processing show the way forward. Motivation and good attitude, focused on by Sinatra (2005) and Gregorie (2005), provide an approach that will encourage learners to continue their own reorientation long after they leave the classroom. To put it simply, motivation leads to more practice, more practice loads to more expertise, and more expertise leads to more creativity. In creativity as with other fields of educational psychology, dual processing and OODA do not overturn what we already know. Rather, the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act dual-processing cycle enrich what educational psychology has already discovered about providing the best education possible to our learners.

Boyd, J.R. (1992). The conceptual spiral. Retrieved October 1, 2007, from Belisarius. Web site:
Coram, R. (2002). Boyd: The fighter pilot who changed the art of war. New York: Back Bay Books.
Gregorie, M. (2003). Is it a challenge or a threat? A dual-process model of teachers’ cognition and appraisal process during conceptual change. Educational Psychology Review, 15(2), 147-179.
Kirschner, P.A., Sweller, J., Clark, R.E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.
Simon, H.A. (2001). Creativity in the arts and sciences. In Cultures of creativity: The centennial celebrations of the Nobel Prizes. Kenyon Review, Spring, 23(2), 203-220.
Simonton, D.K. Expertise, competence, and creativity ability: The perplexing complexities. (2003). In The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise (R.J. Sternberg & E. Grigorenko, Eds.) New York: Cambridge University Press.
Sinatra, G.M. (2005). The “warming trend” in conceptual change research: The legacy of Paul R. Pintrich. Educational Psychologist, 40(2), 107-115.
Sweller, J. (2004). Instructional Design Consequences of an Analogy between Evolution by Natural Selection and Human Cognitive Architecture. Instructional Science, 32(1/2), 9-31.
van Merrienboer, J.J.G. & Sweller, J. (2005). Cognitive load theory and complex learning: Recent developments and future directions. Educational Psychology Review, 17(2), 147-177.

Taxonomies of Creativity

After Mark posted his thoughts, I recently completed two books on creativity, talent, and expertise: The Road to Excellence: The Acquistion of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, edited by K. Anders Ericsson, and Creativity: From Potential to Realization, edited by Robert J. Sternberg Elana L. Grigorenko, and Jerome L. Singer. From the chapters in the book, it seems reasonable to divide the study of “creativity” to the study of talent, creativity, expertise, and invention. That is

  • Talent is the potential for Creativity, Expertise, and Invention
  • Creativity = Talent + training
  • Expertise = Creativity+ overtraining
  • Invention = Creativity + profitmotive


What is creativity?

Identifying expertise as a subset of creativity, rather than the reverse, is not something I’ve seen before. But I think it’s valid. Both rely on a high degree of domain-specific knowledge. The difference appears to be that mere Experts are foreclosed to creativity by over rigid mental structures, ignoring conflicting observations, lack of psychopathology, and other things that can be avoided by the looser (but still knowledge-rich) thinking of the creativity.

Beyond this, my other notes are more prosaic and deal with the creativity research itself. Such research is correlational, biographical clinical/on-site, laboratory, or computational. It studies domains such as academics, arts, sports, or professions. It follows the research agenda of cognitivism, social cognitivism, developmentalism, complex dynamic systems. Most researchers view creativity as domain-specific, though some argue it is domain-general.