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The Pygmalion Effect in Business

In 1965 two researchers conducted a now-famous experiment in a public elementary school, dubbed Pygmalion in the classroom. The researchers told teachers that about one-fifth of their students were unusually intelligent (so-called “growth spurters”), based on results of a fictitious IQ test. Even though the gifted students were seemingly chosen at random, these students performed…

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Can You Create A Dictionary of Cultural Literacy?

Almost exactly 25 years ago, a close friend gave me a book called “The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” The book contains 23 sections, representing “major categories of knowledge”, each containing hundreds of entries discussing ideas, events, and individuals that were “essential for understanding American discourse”. At first, I thought…

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The Unintended Consequence Of The Cobra Effect

Whenever plans don’t work out the way someone expects them to, I’m reminded of the cobra effect. Coined in a book written by the late German economist Horst Siebert, the cobra effect is a cautionary tale of unintended consequences during British rule in India. The British government was concerned that venomous cobra snakes were common…

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The Parable of the Kid and the Barber

A few years ago I read psychologist Walter Mischel’s book, “The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control,” which provides recommendations on how to substantially increase your ability to control your impulses, including: Create good habits Visualize long-term consequences Disassociate from situations so they are less personal This strategy even managed to teach self-control to Sesame Street’s Cookie…

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When Promoting People, Beware the False Record Effect

After writing about several examples of bias from insensitivity to sample size, a former colleague asked whether I thought performance in the workplace was subject to the same bias. She observed that people were sometimes rewarded or even promoted for high performance, even if that performance was sporadic rather than sustained. She asked: Shouldn’t the…

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