Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Mon, 19 Nov 2018 02:23:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://i2.wp.com/jonathanbecher.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/cropped-jb-logo.jpg?fit=32%2C32 Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com 32 32 56894116 Can You Create A Dictionary of Cultural Literacy? http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/11/18/dictionary-of-cultural-literacy/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/11/18/dictionary-of-cultural-literacy/#respond Mon, 19 Nov 2018 02:23:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7182 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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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 my friend chose the book because its lead author, E. D. Hirsch, was a professor at the University of Virginia, my alma mater. But, after reading the book, I found a deeper reason: Hirsch argued for the importance of teaching facts. “Facts are what you need to read properly, and to learn more, and to communicate.” Said another way, you won’t be able to solve problems unless you have the relevant knowledge to do so. My friend knew that my own education followed a similar pattern; in high school, I had several classes focused on memorizing facts.

After Cultural Literacy was published, it was criticized by some who believed Hirsch’s ideas were “elitist, Eurocentric and focused too heavily on rote memorization”. While this may have been true in the initial list published in 1987, subsequent editions of the book expanded and updated the list. The most recent edition, from 2002, is decidedly multi-cultural.

Three decades later, Hirsch’s ideas have become popular, largely due the Common Core State Standards initiative. Common Core determines what U.S. K-12 students are expected to know in math, language, and arts at the conclusion of each school grade. While the standards don’t dictate exactly which facts kids must learn, they do “establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance.”

According to Dan Willingham, a fellow University of Virginia professor, Hirsch’s concepts are consistent with current research on how the human brain learns. “There’s an enormous amount of data showing that background knowledge is absolutely vital to reading comprehension. Your understanding of text is dependent on what you already know about it.”

Personally, I’m torn. My then-unusual education means I know a little about a lot of things and can sometimes recall facts which amaze even me. But I’m unsure that’s still a critical skill – the Internet has become our source of facts. As I wrote a few years ago,

The research shows that we forget things we are confident we can find on the Internet but we are more likely to remember things we think are not available online. Furthermore, we are better at remembering where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the information itself.

So, what if we wanted to create a modern version of the cultural literacy list? We would definitely use wisdom of the crowds. It would be an online list that never stopped changing, whose entries were added or removed, increased or decreased in importance, according to popular belief. It would be a ranked version of Wikipedia.

Maybe it’s not surprising that the last edition of Cultural Literacy was published in 2002.

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The Streisand Effect Explains Why Nothing Stays Hidden http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/11/04/the-streisand-effect-nothing-stays-hidden/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/11/04/the-streisand-effect-nothing-stays-hidden/#comments Sun, 04 Nov 2018 23:35:30 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7176 A few weeks ago, I wrote about an example of unintended consequences called the cobra effect in which an attempt to reduce the snake population actually increased it. A reader emailed me asking me if I had heard of a similar phenomenon called the Streisand effect. Since I hadn’t, I thought I would share the...

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about an example of unintended consequences called the cobra effect in which an attempt to reduce the snake population actually increased it. A reader emailed me asking me if I had heard of a similar phenomenon called the Streisand effect. Since I hadn’t, I thought I would share the concept with you:

The Streisand effect refers to an attempt to censor a piece of information which has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely. It is named after a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for including an aerial photograph of her Malibu home among the 12,000 photos he took of the California coastline for researchers to use to study erosion. According to the court documents, only 6 people (including Streisand’s attorneys) had downloaded the image before the lawsuit was filed. As a result of the publicity surrounding the lawsuit, an estimated more than one million people viewed the photograph. Streisand’s attempt to keep the photo hidden from people resulted in more people seeing it. And one more thing: Streisand lost the lawsuit and had to pay Adelman’s legal fees.

The Streisand effect underscores much of our celebrity worship culture and the dramatic rise of citizen paparazzi. If people find out that someone is trying to keep information from them, they have increased motivation to uncover it. We are seemingly obsessed about knowing things that others don’t want us to know.

The marketer in me realizes this provides a reverse psychology opportunity: if I want to spread something far and wide, I should pretend it’s a secret.

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The Unintended Consequence Of The Cobra Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/10/14/the-cobra-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/10/14/the-cobra-effect/#comments Sun, 14 Oct 2018 19:54:31 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7139 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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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 in Delhi and, as a result, offered a bounty for every dead cobra. As you would expect, the incentive worked – large numbers of snakes were killed for the reward.

Indian entrepreneurs eventually realized that they could make additional income by breeding cobras for the sole purpose of turning them in for the reward. The new snake-breeding industry flourished! When the British government discovered what was going on, they stopped the reward program. This, in turn, caused the snake breeders to release their now-worthless cobras which increased the number of snakes in the wild. The program to reduce the number of snakes in Delhi actually increased them.

The cobra effect is a specific example of the so-called law of unintended consequences – outcomes that are not the ones foreseen or intended by an action. Unintended consequences can result in an unexpected benefit or drawback but sometimes they simply backfire. As was the case in the cobra effect, the outcome is the exact opposite to what was originally intended.

The cobra effect – and more generally the law of unintended consequences – reminds us that we cannot fully control the world around us. No matter how much we plan, something unexpected can happen. Sometimes the exact opposite of what we planned for.

This doesn’t mean you should give up planning but it does mean that you’ll occasionally get snake-bitten.

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The Power Play of Sports Jargon http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/10/07/the-power-play-of-sports-jargon/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/10/07/the-power-play-of-sports-jargon/#comments Mon, 08 Oct 2018 00:57:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7132 Ever since I became an executive in sports & entertainment, people started sending me examples of over-the-top uses of sports jargon. From every unnecessary quip like “Please quarterback this project for me”, there’s also the poetic usage such as “The candidate won by a nose.” My slam-dunk favorite sports jargon gone too far came from...

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Ever since I became an executive in sports & entertainment, people started sending me examples of over-the-top uses of sports jargon. From every unnecessary quip like “Please quarterback this project for me”, there’s also the poetic usage such as “The candidate won by a nose.” My slam-dunk favorite sports jargon gone too far came from The Onion in this 2014 open letter from a father to his son:

Son, I think it’s high time you and I sat down and touched base. As your father, it’s been difficult watching you drop the ball these past few months […] Your head just hasn’t been in the game, and sadly for me, I’ve had a ringside seat as you’ve repeatedly struck out. I’m in your corner, son, and I truly want to help you come out swinging and rally.

If you’re trying to beat that one, you might as well throw in the towel.

Amusing as that may be, the passage reminds me that sports jargon is often over-used – in business and in life. As I’ve always been a proponent of simple and clear communication, it occurred to me that sports jargon might be getting in the way. After all, not everyone has a sports background and many of the phrases are confusing enough that not everyone understands what they mean.

Josh Chetwynd’s fun book “The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors: A Compendium of Competitive Words and Idioms” is the perfect solution to the problem. Chetwynd provides definitions and origins for many of the most commonly-used sports terms in English. Even for someone like me who prides himself in knowing a fair amount about sports, some of the entries were surprising.

Let’s look at the term “power play.” Many people recognize power play as coming from hockey. Here’s a representative example:

a situation in which a team has a numerical advantage over its opponents while one or more players is serving a penalty, characterized by an emphasis on offensive play.
“moments later Pavelski scored on a rebound during the power play”

However, that’s not what the term always meant and likely didn’t even originate in hockey. In the 1920’s football, power play referred to “a ball carrier barreling down the field under the heavy protection of his teammates.” As football became a more pass-centric sport, power plays became less and less common. The term entered hockey in the early 1930’s to refer to the (at that time) rare situation when a defenseman would abandon their normal position close to their own goal and take part in the offensive game plan. If one team had less players than the other due to a penalty, it was simply referred to as being short-handed. It wasn’t until the late 1930’s that this penalty situation became known as a power play and didn’t enter common use until the 1940’s.

If you’re confused about sports or just curious where the terms come from, The Field Guide to Sports Metaphors covers all the bases and is hands-down the best book on the subject that I’ve read. It’s worth your time – don’t worry, I wouldn’t send you on a wild goose chase.

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Inspiration and Integrity from the 2018 CHURCHILLS http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/09/23/inspiration-and-integrity-2018-churchills/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/09/23/inspiration-and-integrity-2018-churchills/#respond Sun, 23 Sep 2018 18:50:17 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7126 Every year, Churchill Club presents the CHURCHILLS — an extraordinary event which is designed to inspire us to advance innovation, leadership, collaboration, and social benefit. The Churchill Club Academy, a group of more than 700 innovation community members, name honorees for their contributions in four areas of excellence: Legendary Leader, Game-changing Company, Global Benefactor, and...

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Every year, Churchill Club presents the CHURCHILLS — an extraordinary event which is designed to inspire us to advance innovation, leadership, collaboration, and social benefit. The Churchill Club Academy, a group of more than 700 innovation community members, name honorees for their contributions in four areas of excellence: Legendary Leader, Game-changing Company, Global Benefactor, and Magical Team. The honorees appear at the CHURCHILLS in the spirit of “giving back” —sharing their perspectives about what is needed to lead, collaborate, and contribute to the greater good.

I was honored to be Master of Ceremonies for this year’s event, held on September 20, 2018. I opened the evening by asking the audience to consider what inspires them, anchored by this quote from Prussian philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder:

Without inspiration, the best powers of the mind remain dormant. There is a fuel in us which needs to be ignited with sparks.

One of my favorite questions to ask when I meet someone new is “What inspires you?” Over the years, I’ve heard many wonderful answers:

  1. learning something new every day
  2. solving complex problems in simple ways
  3. educating the future generation to avoid the mistakes of the current generation.

But my favorite answer was “making others better.” Perhaps surprisingly, this answer came from a professional hockey player. His answer wasn’t winning a championship or getting an award, but improving the team. That’s truly inspiring.

Here are the four award-winners and what I took away from their remarks:

Legendary Leader – Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn
The spirit of this honor is, “Couldn’t have done it without you.” Jeff showed us compassionate leadership and phenomenal growth are not mutually exclusive.

Game Changer – NVIDIA
The spirit of this honor is, “You changed how things are done or viewed, and there’s no going back.” Colette Kress and Mark Stevens shared the philosophy that, no matter how successful you are, you should always think like you’re 30 days from going out of business.

Global Benefactor – Jennifer Pahlka of Code For America
The spirit of this honor is, “Thanks for thinking big.” Jennifer inspired us to help others, reminding us that we get the government we deserve.

Magical Team – Khan Academy
The spirit of this award is, “Your team nailed it.” Sal Khan, Ginny Lee, and Shantanu Sinha showed us that a one-size fits all learning approach doesn’t fit anyone at all.

I closed the evening by observing that all four honorees share something in common; a deep understanding that pursuit of their vision cannot and will not compromise their values. I urged the audience to focus on integrity, sharing with them a sign that I keep in my office:

Always do the Right Thing, even when no one is watching.

My parting thought was to take inspiration from each of the honorees. To follow their passion, overcome setbacks, and stay true to their values. We humans can and will continue to make the world a better place.

It starts with each of us.

 

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Why Your Cat Video Didn’t Go Viral http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/09/09/why-your-cat-video-didnt-go-viral/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/09/09/why-your-cat-video-didnt-go-viral/#respond Mon, 10 Sep 2018 02:55:06 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7119 Years ago, I got a chance to listen to a keynote by Jonah Berger, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. During his talk, Berger asked the audience the following question: Which of these three products gets the most word of mouth buzz? Walt Disney World Honey Nut Cheerios Scrubbing...

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Six-STEPPS-of-viral-content.pngYears ago, I got a chance to listen to a keynote by Jonah Berger, Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. During his talk, Berger asked the audience the following question:

Which of these three products gets the most word of mouth buzz?
  • Walt Disney World
  • Honey Nut Cheerios
  • Scrubbing Bubbles

Which one would you choose?

The audience was almost evenly split among the three answers, with more people raising their hands for Walt Disney World than the other two answers. For the record, I chose Scrubbing Bubbles – I still remember the classic animated commercial from my childhood.

According to Berger, the correct answer is Honey Nut Cheerios.

Berger should know. He has spent the last 10 years looking into what makes things popular. Berger and his colleagues researched 7,000 articles that appeared in The New York Times over a six-month period to determine why some content was shared more often and therefore generated more buzz. The result is the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

‘Contagious’ cites research from McKinsey that found “word of mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising in categories as diverse as skincare and mobile.” In addition, the customers that were referred by word of mouth had a lifetime value which was 13% higher. As Berger explained,

Word of mouth has a big causal impact on behavior. A big part of that is because it’s targeted. Nobody tells a friend who doesn’t have a baby about a new baby product. Instead, we talk about things we know will help each other.

According to Berger, there are six STEPPS which lead to something going viral:

  1. Social currency: People talk about things that make themselves look good.
  2. Triggers: People talk about things they can easily remember.
  3. Emotion: People are more likely to pass on information they care about.
  4. Public: When we see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  5. Practical value: People share information they believe they will help others.
  6. Stories: People are more likely to share information when it’s told as a story. It’s why I use animal stories to introduce new initiatives.

It’s not hard to recognize these principles at work in the so-called clickbait headlines which entice us to click through to the content. Ironically, the better we get at creating clickbait, the less effective the headlines are. More from Berger,

If everyone is perfectly implementing the best headline to pass on, it’s not as effective anymore. What used to be emotionally arousing simply isn’t any longer.

‘Contagious’ is a fascinating read – especially the chapters on triggers and emotions – but it has its limitations. While the book does a better job of explaining why things generate buzz than anything else I’ve ever read, it doesn’t provide specific steps to cause something to go viral.

Good marketing is still one part art and one part science.

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Napping is Good For You http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/08/27/napping-is-good-for-you/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/08/27/napping-is-good-for-you/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2018 02:21:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7106 I’m tired. The reason is pretty simple: I haven’t been sleeping 8 hours a night. I know better too – I wrote an article which quoted research showing that only 2.5% of people really need less than 7 hours of sleep every night. Everyone else needs 8 or more hours. Unfortunately, I haven’t been following...

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Napping on a benchI’m tired.

The reason is pretty simple: I haven’t been sleeping 8 hours a night. I know better too – I wrote an article which quoted research showing that only 2.5% of people really need less than 7 hours of sleep every night. Everyone else needs 8 or more hours. Unfortunately, I haven’t been following my own advice.

Once I return to a normal sleep pattern, studies show I will be rested again after about a week. It’s tempting to try to speed up this process by napping. But would taking a nap actually make me feel rested or interfere with my ability to sleep at night?

There’s plenty of evidence that the occasional, short nap can be really good for you.

The National Sleep Foundation found that a 20 to 30-minute nap can boost short-term alertness. A NASA study on pilots showed a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34%. According to researchers from Saarland University in Germany, people who napped for 45 minutes improved their memory five-fold. Georgetown University researchers have linked power naps to increased creativity. There’s even a small study which suggests that napping can help your immune system.

All naps don’t have the same benefits. It’s important to limit the length of your nap – 30 minutes is recommended. You also want to make sure you don’t nap too early or late in the day or you will throw off your sleep cycle – nap about 8 hours after you wake up. While you could take a nap every day, it’s not a substitute for a full night’s sleep and isn’t a cure for a sleep deficit.

In summary, it’s ok to nap when you’re tired: just make sure you address the underlying reason you were tired in the first place.

With that, I’m going to take a nap.

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The Five-Second Rule http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/08/12/the-five-second-rule/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/08/12/the-five-second-rule/#comments Sun, 12 Aug 2018 19:56:06 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7097 Thanks to Seinfeld, we know that double-dipping is bad for us. But what about the five-second rule? Conventional wisdom suggests it’s safe to eat food dropped on the floor – as long as you pick it up in less than five seconds. Presumably that’s not long enough for the food to get contaminated. In 2003,...

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Thanks to Seinfeld, we know that double-dipping is bad for us. But what about the five-second rule? Conventional wisdom suggests it’s safe to eat food dropped on the floor – as long as you pick it up in less than five seconds. Presumably that’s not long enough for the food to get contaminated.

In 2003, high-school student Jillian Clarke conducted a series of experiments which discredited the five-second rule. During a summer internship at the University of Illinois, Clarke swabbed bacteria onto 1-inch squares of floors in a variety of locations on campus and then placed gummy bears and cookies on the tiles for varying lengths of time. The results showed bacteria were transferred to the food in less than five seconds and more bacteria were transferred from smooth tiles than from rough tiles. In a separate and more surprising finding, Clarke also found that women were more likely than men to eat food that’s been on the floor.

Clemson Professor Paul Dawson – the one who proved double-dipping is bad – expanded on Clarke’s study by spreading salmonella bacteria on tile, carpet and wood. After five minutes, they placed bologna and bread on the surfaces for 5, 30 and 60 seconds, measuring the amount of bacteria transferred to the food in each case. They then repeated the process after the bacteria had been on the surface for two, four, eight and 24 hours.

Dawson found that it was safer to drop your food on carpet than wood or tile. Less than 1% of the bacteria on the carpet was transferred but 48%-70% of bacteria was transferred from wood and tile. He also found the food was almost as contaminated in 5 seconds as it was after a full minute. Finally – and most significantly – the number of bacteria on the surface decreased over time so there was less bacteria to contaminate the food.

Donald Schaffner, a food microbiologist at Rutgers University, decided to take the experiment one step further by investigating the type of food. Schaffner found that dry foods like bread or cereal were relatively safe but wet foods were more likely to pick up bacteria. In his own words,

if it’s a big sloppy wet piece of watermelon that drops in my kitchen, where I walk and my dogs walk, no, I’m definitely not going to eat that, because I know the risk is much higher.

Despite all of the science, most people go with their gut. 87% of people Dawson surveyed said they would eat food dropped on the floor, or already have done so.

To which, I say “yuck.”

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Lucky Number Seven http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/07/22/lucky-number-seven/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/07/22/lucky-number-seven/#comments Sun, 22 Jul 2018 20:54:33 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7090 What’s the luckiest number? A variety of surveys have shown that most people choose 7. Lucky number seven. Why seven?  A few years ago, I wrote an article which had a few theories on what makes seven special: There are seven openings in the head: the ears, eyes, nostrils and mouth Physiologically and biblically speaking,...

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What’s the luckiest number? A variety of surveys have shown that most people choose 7. Lucky number seven.

Why seven?  A few years ago, I wrote an article which had a few theories on what makes seven special:

  • There are seven openings in the head: the ears, eyes, nostrils and mouth
  • Physiologically and biblically speaking, six is the optimal number of days to work before you need a day of rest
  • Seven (plus or minus two) is the number of things a person can remember simultaneously

At a get-together this weekend, I mentioned these theories to an acquaintance and she told me the following story:

A man meets a friend on the street and asks “What’s wrong? You look a little down.”

His friend sighs. “Yea, I really thought today was going to be my day. I woke up at exactly 7 a.m. and realized it was July 7 – that’s the seventh day of the seventh month. I put on my pants and found seven dollars and seven cents in my pocket. When I went to make breakfast, I had 7 eggs left.

It was a sign. I took the number 7 bus to the racetrack and – would you believe it – the seventh horse in the seventh race was named Seven-Up… running at 7-to-1 odds! Of course, I bet seven hundred seventy-seven dollars on Seven-Up to win.”

“Well, what happened?” demanded the friend.

“He came in seventh.”

Lucky number seven, indeed.

In life and in business, we sometimes misinterpret data so that it supports conclusions we wish were true.

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The Curious Case of Clever Hans http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/07/08/the-curious-case-of-clever-hans/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2018/07/08/the-curious-case-of-clever-hans/#respond Mon, 09 Jul 2018 03:38:46 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=7078 Long before Mr. Ed, the talking horse, Clever Hans was a horse who apparently could understand human language and answer mathematical questions. In the late 1800s, a German high school mathematics instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten believed humans had underestimated animal intelligence and that animals could learn to read or count. Von Osten’s initial attempts...

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Long before Mr. Ed, the talking horse, Clever Hans was a horse who apparently could understand human language and answer mathematical questions.

In the late 1800s, a German high school mathematics instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten believed humans had underestimated animal intelligence and that animals could learn to read or count. Von Osten’s initial attempts were unsuccessful but a horse named Klude Hans learned a wide variety of skills. Hans could add, subtract, multiply, and divide; if Von Osten asked for the sum of 3 plus 2, the horse would tap his hoof five times.

Von Osten started showing off Hans’ mathematical abilities all over Germany. For example, Von Osten would ask Hans: “If the first day of the month is a Wednesday, what is the date of the following Monday?” Hans would respond with six taps of his hooves. The horse was soon known as Clever Hans and could answer questions with nearly 90% accuracy.

As Clever Hans’ fame grew, many claimed Von Osten was cheating and demanded an inquiry. The German board of education assembled the Hans Commission – two zoologists, a psychologist, a horse trainer, school teachers, and a circus manager – to conduct an investigation. The commission concluded the Clever Hans was legit; the horse could answer questions asked by anyone, even if Von Osten wasn’t there.

Eventually psychologist Oskar Pfungst figured out what was happening. During a series of experiments, Pfungst noticed that Clever Hans often didn’t know the correct answer when the questioner didn’t know it either. Furthermore, if the horse couldn’t see anyone who did know the answer, Hans didn’t respond correctly.

It turned out Clever Hans had learned to detect subtle nonverbal cues. After someone asked a question, Hans would begin tapping his hoof. When the horse reached the correct answer, the questioner would provide an involuntary clue such as tilting their head or tensing their muscles. Clever Hans would recognize this behavior and stop tapping. When Hans couldn’t see the cues, he couldn’t answer the question.

After the curious case of Clever Hans, scientists began to study nonverbal clues and discovered people can unconsciously communicate information to others through subtle movements. Even if you’re not aware you’re providing these clues, someone can be trained to pick up on your “tells.”

Expert poker players owe a debt to a horse named Clever Hans.

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