#59 Why the Human Touch Still Matters: Steve Hilton

When is the last time you called a big company or government agency and after two or three rings, a real live human being answered the phone and said "Hello, how can I help you?" 

From big data, automation, complex algorithms and giant corporations to massive government bureaucracy, we've lost the human touch.  Everyday life often seems increasingly impersonal.

 

Our guest, Steve Hilton, argues for radical change.  The former senior policy advisor to ex-British Prime Minister David Cameron has co-authored  "More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First."  The book is a clarion call for reform of government, law, education, welfare and business systems.
 
"I think one of the most destructive and damaging words in the entire world right now both in government and the private sector is efficiency, "Steve tells us in this episode. "In the name of efficiency really stupid and inhuman things are often done."

Find out what he's talking about and what fixes he has in mind... "More Human" and link to Crowdpac, where voters make a difference to how we run politics. 

We also interviewed Hilton about Brexit; to listen to that interview click here.

#58 Our Problem With Polls. Gary Langer: How Do We Fix It?

Are opinion polls accurate?  Did they miss the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?  Do they properly measure America's increasingly sharp political and cultural divisions?  What's the difference between a well-designed poll conducted with careful methodology and a sloppy opt-in online survey?

Our guest is Gary Langer, an internationally recognized opinion researcher and longtime director of polling at ABC News. He has overseen and analyzed more than 750 surveys on a broad range of topics.

Gary has a passion for numbers and explains what listeners should know about polls.  He tells us that surveys taken at least a year ago - when many pundits dismissed Trump as an outlier - clearly showed that his views on banning oversees Muslim visitors and building a wall along border with Mexico had substantial support among Republican voters. Trump led the  GOP field throughout the lead-up to the primary season.  

"The news media have for far too long indulged themselves in the lazy luxury of being both data hungry and math phobic," Gary tells us.  "I would suggest polls are anti-pundit. A good quality poll ... holds a pundit's feet to the fire "

In this episode we get some vital takeaways on how well researched randomized polls are conducted and what changes have been made recently to ensure that a representative sample is reached.

#57 How To Be Smarter About Risk: Karen Firestone

This show may very well save you money, boost your career and help you make smarter decisions.  

It's about risk.

Our guest is Karen Firestone - author of the new book “Even The Odds - Sensible Risk Taking in Business Investing and Life."  She is President and CEO, of Aureus Asset Management, an asset management firm she cofounded after 22 years as a fund manager and research analyst at Fidelity Investments. Karen is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review blog.

"I think that sensible risk taking is something that we should all think more about," says Karen. She argues that most of us are too gullible.  "It's more fun to be enthusiastic and positive about the outcome of something that involves some risk than be pessimistic and skeptical."

Karen shares her personal stories and knowledge about investments, starting a firm, changing careers, surviving in the workplace and raising kids.  

Karen's four principles of risk taking:

  • Right-sizing. Consider how big the risk is before you commit to a decision. 
  • Right timing. Is this the right time to change your lifestyle or career?  For instance, don't open an ice-cream shop in November!Relying on knowledge and experience. Know as much as you can about the risk you are taking.
  • Remaining skeptical about promises and projections. "If you show up at a blackjack table and you don't know how to play, you are going to be out of money in five minutes."

#54 Fixing Our Habits: Smarter, Faster, Better Charles Duhigg

This podcast is all about how to have better habits and use them to be more productive in our projects, careers and everyday lives.  

We talk about to-do lists, email, mental models and making the most of our time with best-selling author,  Chares Duhigg.  His latest book is "Smarter, Faster, Better:  The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and In Business."  Charles is also the author of "The Power of Habit."

"Keeping your eye on that thing that matters most to you is the secret to success," Charles tells us.  "We need a mental model: a story we tell ourselves about how we expect our day to unfold."

Whether it's the importance of stretch and smart goals or our need to get out a rut or shed bad habits, this fun episode has smart solutions for all of us. Building on cutting-edge science and deep reporting, Charles uses storytelling to explain how productivity relies on making smart choices. 

Just one example: "We can turn a to-do list from a memory aid into a device that forces us to think a little bit more deeply about our priorities." Find more on this episode. 

Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition. -- Maria Popova. of BrainPickings

During their conversation in this episode, Richard and Jim mention the inspirational commencement address by Maria Popova - curator of brainpickings.org -  on the soul-sustaining necessity of resisting self-comparison and fighting cynicism.  

#51 The challenge of self-driving cars. Eddie Alterman: How do we fix it?

With technology in overdrive, self-driving cars are no longer a fantasy.  The first autonomous cars and trucks made by major auto manufacturers could be on the road within several years.

But "Fix It" guest Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver magazine says not so fast.  "It's a scary concept anyway you look at it," he tells us. 

"The autonomous car is a very inelegant, very complex and a very fraught solution to the problem of texting while driving... and of information coming into the car when people should be driving."

For Google, Apple, Microsoft and other big data companies, autonomous cars are a big opportunity. Instead of keeping their eyes on the road, motorists could use their driving time to consume more digital media. 

But Eddie Alterman says a mix of self-driving and traditional vehicles on the road would create danger. "People will deal with or accept flawed humans crashing into each other. I don't think people will accept supposedly fail-safe machines crashing into each other"

(above photo: Lokan Sardari

Solutions:

  • Understand the danger of mixing traditional cars with self-driving vehicles on the same roadway.
  • Promote the use of background technology to make driving safer. Examples: cruise control, vehicle stability, lane departure warning systems.
  • Adopt autonomous vehicles in "closed" environments such as industrial sites.
  • Encourage car-sharing and other initiatives to reduce commute times.  
  • Resist the temptation to encourage drivers to surrender control of their time behind-the-wheel.

#50 Building a Better Workplace: Social Psychologist Ron Friedman

The numbers are alarming.  A 2015 Gallup poll found nearly 70% of U.S. employees say they're either bored or disengaged at work.

The cost to employers has been put at more than $500 billion in lost productivity. The cost to workers is incalculable - in human misery, unnecessary stress and lost opportunity.

Workplace psychologist Ron Friedman is the author of "The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace." Ron says there's an astonishing gap between the latest science and most the modern workplace.  He has some great tips for both employers and employees.  

Ron's solutions for employers:

  • An engaged workforce is more creative, focused and stay with their company for a long period time. This saves money.
  • Employees need to be competent and connected to one another, yet they need to have autonomy - feeling they have choice in how they go about doing their work.
  • Invite employees to share their ideas.
  • Encourage learning: give your employees a quarterly reading budget. Establish an office library.
  • Invite employees to take their vacation time and switch off from work at night, so they can live a balanced, healthy life.
  • Workplace design and hiring a diverse workforce play a very important role in creating a better workplace.

Ron's solutions for employees:

  • Reframe the way you look at your job. Present a case that could add value to your employer.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Greater variety often leads to more work satisfaction.  
  • Look for ways to re-create your job to allow yourself to do more of the things you enjoy doing more often. 
  • Regular exercise. It makes you smarter, more focused and creative at work.

 

#49 Don't Freak Out About Terrorism: Fixes from The Security Mom

"Stuff happens," says homeland security expert, and mom of three, Juliette Kayyem.

The government has got to find a better way to talk about the threat of terrorism and natural disasters. Most of us need to have a better plan to prepare.

 

"We talked in a way when people would either tune out or freak out," says Juliette of her time as a top official at The Department of Homeland of Homeland Security. "We are all in this together," she tells on this episode of "How Do We Fix It?"

 Her new book is "Security Mom: An Unclassified Guide to Protecting Our Homeland And Your Home." The book is packed with common-sense ways to think about positively about a difficult subject.

Juliette's solutions:

  • The government shouldn't scare, but prepare. Pretending that America is invulnerable is both unrealistic and unhelpful to citizens.
  • Homeland security is not just about tragedy or terror, it's what all of us can do every day to keep ourselves strong, safe and prepared.  Families should have a "72 on you" plan. If you call 9-1-1 in an emergency, don't assume help will come quickly.  Have 72 hours of vital supplies, including non-perishable food, water, first-aid kit, flashlights and batteries.
  • "You can get yourself prepared for almost any eventuality in a very small amount of time," says Juliette. "You're going to feel better being prepared for something rather than nothing." 

#48 John Gable Do You Know How Biased You Are? John Gable of AllSides.com

"At the end of the day everybody is biased," says our guest, John Gable, founder CEO of AllSides. "You're biased by what you know. You're biased by what you know and you're biased by your entire human existence before then."

AllSides is unique in how it covers the news - displaying stories on its front page - from different points of view. It urges readers to "engage in civil dialog and discover a deeper understanding of the issues."

The left-hand column at AllSides has stories from liberal-leaning sites (New York Times, Huffington Post, Salon), the right column features conservative-leaning media coverage of the same event (Fox News, The Blaze). The centrist column plays things down the middle (USA Today, Christian Science Monitor).

"Part of what we do is help people understand that they are biased as well," says John.

With deep experience in technology and his former involvement in political campaigns, he understands how so many of live in a bubble - only listening to those we agree with. And why that's a threat to our democracy.

Solutions: