#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."

Fix It Shorts #3 Should Britain Leave the European Union?: Steve Hilton

Would Britain face lasting economic and political harm if it votes to quit the European Union in June 23rd's referendum?  Our show looks at the case for Brexit.

Steve Hilton, one of David Cameron's closest friends and a former senior political advisor to the Prime Minister, is a leading member of the Vote Leave campaign.  He tells us in this episode that a bureaucratic, over-centralized EU has become far too entangled in British life and is incapable of reform.

Richard and Jim disagree on the best outcome for Britain and Europe.  They discuss some of the arguments for and against.

Note: This episode was recorded shortly before Thursday's tragic murder of British MP, Jo Cox. Several campaign events were cancelled after the attack. 

Fix It Shorts #2: 2016 Presidential Campaign: Lessons From History. Sean Wilentz

How many times have heard somebody say that the political campaign has reached a new low?  How much worse is the 2016 race compared to previous elections?

We asked Princeton University Professor, Sean Wilentz, to give us a history lesson. 

In his latest book, "The Politicians and the Egalitarians" Sean makes the case for pragmatism, arguing that politicians serve the country best through the art of compromise.

 On this episode, he tells us that "nasty, slimy stuff" is nothing new in Presidential campaigns, using the wild rhetoric of 1828 and 1860 as examples.  But what is new this year, Sean argues, is hyper-partisanship, "where you cannot imagine the other side even existing. You want to obliterate them. You want to wipe them off the face of the earth." 

The SOLUTIONS start with us.
 How we talk about those we disagree with.  Are you gleefully vilifying the opposition?

  • Go beyond our information silos.  Read and listen to those we disagree with. allsides.com has daily examples, looking at the news from the left, right and center. Follow journalists who cover solutions.
  • Revitalize civil discourse. If you have a strong disagreement with friends or neighbors, consider setting up a living room conversation.  

Support politicians who are pragmatic and work for common ground.
Useful articles: "What The Decline of Partisanship Would Look Like" and"How Conservatives and Progressives Will Work Together Next Year."
 

#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.  

#53 Medical Mistakes: The 3rd Largest Cause of Death. How Do We Fix It?

Medical errors are America's third largest cause of death. Only heart disease and cancer have a higher body count. 

A new report estimates that about 250,000 Americans die each year because of screw-ups in hospitals, doctors' offices and other medical settings.  In 2013, research by NASA's chief toxicologist put the number at as many as 440,000.

In this episode of "How Do We Fix It?", Pittsburgh-based lawyer James Lieber brings a passion for practical solutions to a widespread problem. James has spent more than a decade researching medical errors after his friend and mentor died from a prescription overdose following a lung transplant. Last month, his provocative and practical op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, "How To Make Hospitals Less Deadly", caught our attention. (Note: readers can get behind the Journal's paywall by pasting the link at news.google.com).

His recent book is "Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death, And What Can Be Done About It" 

Solutions:

  • Standard medical records.  All medical information about a patient should be available in the exam room with a few clicks. Despite efforts by Congress and the Obama Administration to reach this goal, many online medical records are on closed systems, unavailable to hospitals and doctors when they need them most. 
  • Structured handoffs. Miscommunication can happen during shift changes in hospitals or when a patient is transferred to a new room or different section of the hospital. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested adverse events could be reduced 30% by structured handoffs.
  • Bring in pharmacists. In many cases, they have more up-to-date knowledge than doctors about how drugs interact with diet, age, disease and each other.
  • Get serious about infections. Adopt guidelines from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  According to the CDC, more than 700,000 patients become infected while hospitalized each year.
  • Reduce diagnostic error.  Improve communications between doctors, surgeons, nurses, pathologists and radiologists.

Fix It Shorts #1: Solutions for Laws & Crazy Red Tape: Philip K. Howard

It's the biggest issue of the Presidential campaign that the candidates are not talking about: bloated government and the poor delivery of services.

From very long TSA airport security lines to the dysfunction at your local DMV, our interactions with government can be extremely frustrating.  Exceedingly complex rules and laws make things even worse. 

For decades, Philip K. Howard has been a leading voice on how to streamline government and make it work for all of us. His latest book is "The Rule of Nobody: Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government." He's the founder of the good government group, Common Good.

In this 12-minute episode of "Fix It Shorts," Philip gives alarming examples of how regulations have programmed officials and politicians of both parties to follow rigid rules that often leave very little room for human judgement.

Solutions:

  • Rules and regulations need to be radically simplified. 
  • Laws based on principles and goals rather detailed rules.
  • Sunset provisions for laws: they can be re-examined every five or ten years.
  • Founding father James Madison's warning about laws should be heeded. They must not be "so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood."

"Four Ways to Fix A Broken Legal System." Philip K. Howard Ted Talk.

#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:

#47 A Better Way To Report The News: David Bornstein

In this episode, we interview David Bornstein, who writes for the Fixes blog of The New York Times and is co-founder of SolutionsJournalismNetwork.org.

"The news tends to focus far more on what's wrong than on the credible efforts around the world of people who are trying to fix things, whether they are successful or not." David tells us. 

"I think the main thing is that the problems scream and the solutions whisper. The problems are always clamoring for attention. Solutions, you really do have to be proactive and go look for them."

David says that solutions journalism focuses not just on what may be working, but how and why it appears to be working, or alternatively, why it may be stumbling. Using the best available evidence, it delves deep into the how-to’s of problem solving, often structuring stories as puzzles or mysteries that investigate questions like: What models are having success reducing the dropout rate in public schools? How do they actually work? What are they doing differently than others that’s resulting in a better outcome?

Solutions Journalism network goes into newsrooms around the country, and trains editors and reporters on the imperatives of the "now what" aspect of reporting.  Solutions journalism helps news organizations play a stronger role in the communities they serve.

 

#46 An Environmental Case for Nuclear Power: Michael Shellenberger

With the approach of Earth Day, this show looks at the clean air, carbon-free case for nuclear power.  And it challenges the view held by many environmentalists that the only way to save the planet is for all of us to get by with less. 

Guest Michael Shellenberger is is coauthor of An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a which argues that human prosperity and an ecologically vibrant planet go hand-in-hand.  In 2007, Michael received the Green Book Award and Time magazine's "Hero of the Environment." His recent TEDx talk is "How Humans Save Nature."

Nuclear power is an anathema to many of his fellow environmentalists, but Michael tells us its a crucial form of energy that "produces zero air and water pollution... There's no pollution that comes out of nuclear plants." 

He says that we can boost growth all over the world and still set aside more land for nature and wildlife. Michael makes argument that humans, who have caused so much destruction to the planet, have the ingenuity to save it. 

 Michael recently started a new group, EnvironmentalProgress.org and is the author of the book "Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility." He calls on those who care about the future of the planet to reject the language of limits and embrace possibility and the aspirations of people around the world who strive to improve their standard of living.

#45 The Case for Children's Free Play: Lenore Skenazy

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You can't have too much of a really good thing.  That's why we decided to invite Lenore Skenazy,founder of Free Range Kids, to make a welcome return to "How Do We Fix It?"  She was a guest on an earlier show. 

Lenore is the passionate and playful campaigner, who says most American kids don't have nearly enough unstructured free time, when they can be curious and engage the world on their own terms. 

"Free time is unsupervised time," Lenore tells us. "It's not a parent sitting there saying 'oh, that was really good, or try it this way.' Sometimes you've got to do things that are really bad and try it the wrong way, because that's the creative process." 

Lenore says parenting styles have changed in the past 30 years, especially for many urban and upper-middle classes Moms and Dads. Risk avoidance seems more important than stimulating a child's imagination. 

"Think back on your own childhood. Your parents loved you and they let you go. And it's a new thing not to give children any freedom."

From the Free Range Kids statement of where it stands:  "Fighting the belief that are children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of the non-organic grape." 

#44 Our Problem with Science. Ainissa Ramirez: How Do We Fix It?

We have a problem in our society.  Too many people don't understand science or the importance of the scientific method.

Many children aren't learning the basics of math and science, which closes off a broad range of career opportunities.

It's also a problem in our civil society.  A broader understanding of how science works would help parents know why they need to vaccinate their kids or what's going on with climate change.

Science evangelist Ainissa Ramirez has some great fixes.  She's the author of "Save Our Science" and "Newton's Football," a lively book about the science of America's favorite sport. Ainissa is dedicated to making science fun for people of all ages.  Her excellent two-minute podcast, "Science Underground," helps spread the word.

"We all start off as scientists," Ainissa tells us in this episode. "If you look at a 4-year-old's hands, they're completely dirty, because they're engaging with the world. But then something happens. School happens"

The science knowledge deficit holds back many girls and minorities. But Ainissa says "girls used to rock STEM at one point."  Find out what happened in this episode of "How Do We Fix It?"

#43 Joan Blades Part 2 - How to Speak With People You Disagree With

 

This episode looks at the simple, highly personal way that living room conversations allow people of different viewpoints to really hear each other.

A progressive activist, Joan Blades was deeply involved in starting MoveOn.org in the late 90's. More recently she has also worked on ways to encourage respect and dialog among liberals, independents and conservatives.  She is the cofounder of LivingRoomConversations.org.

In part one last week (episode 43), we looked at why Americans need to find new ways to speak about our differences, such as visiting websites with opposing political opinions, and having conversations that are not vindictive.

"It's actually really fun having a living room conversation," says Joan. "They're more fun than if you have a bunch of people around that you know what they're going to say.  We get to laugh about our differences once we understand what's going on."

Among the first conversations the group had was a discussion on climate and energy. "One of the problems progressives have right now is that if they run into someone who doesn't believe in climate science, they roll their eyes."  As soon as you do that, "you've lost your conversation," Joan says. "Nobody listens to anybody."

Here are some of the topics we raised in this episode: 

  •  LivingRoomConversations.org has simple for ground rules each meeting - encouraging participants to be curious, show respect and take turns.  
  • Listening to people is the best way to get people to listen to you. 
  • These conversations are not debates. Instead of winning, the aim is come up with solutions.
  •  LivingRoomConverstions.org guidelines are open-source. People can use what works for them.

#42 Neighbors Divided Over Politics: Joan Blades: How Do We Fix It?

This show is another response to the deep partisan divide in America - part one of a fascinating conversation with Joan Blades. 

Much of our political campaign has been dominated by personal insults, name-calling and dogma.  Voters have rewarded politicians who use anger and blame others for the country's problems.  Individual citizens are part of the problem and the solution. 

"We live with the dysfunction of partisan behaviors and believe we must and can do better," says Joan, co-founder of Living Room Conversations She makes the case for personal dialog across party lines, arguing that it's a key part of changing the way all of us think about politics.

A strong progressive, who co-founded the liberal activist group, MoveOn.org in  the late 90's, Joan makes the case for listening to those you don't agree with. 

"It's actually really fun having a living room conversation," she tells us."They're more fun than if you have a bunch of people around and you what they're going to say."

#41 Mark Earls Explains Donald Trump: Emotions & The Power of "We"

Let's face it.  Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have won far more votes than almost any "expert" forecast. 

The reason may well be that emotions and learned behavior from others play a far bigger role in our decision making than most of us realize. 

Our "Fix It" guest Mark Earls - the HERDMeister - is an award-winning British writer and consultant on marketing, communications and human behavior. In his latest book, "Copy, Copy, Copy," Mark shows how we vote and buy stuff by copying others - our friends, family and our neighbors.

"Donald Trump is "much smarter than we give him credit for," says Mark.. "He gets that people need to feel stuff rather than think about it." 

In his advertising work, Mark has used the lessons of behavioral science and marketing success to advise clients.  He shares his fascinating, if somewhat frustrating insights with us.

As voters and consumers we can learn from what his research tells us - even when he go to the supermarket or spend time with friends. 

"I would not recommend buying grocery shopping when you're hungry," Mark tells us. And...  "If I find myself in a British bar I tend to have a glass of beer and that's how it goes, unless somebody else around me goes 'ooh, a gin and tonic. I haven't had a gin and tonic for a long time'. So we both have the same thing."

Original Photo taken by Gage Skidmore: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/8566727275

#40 America's Angry Political Divide. Mark Gerzon: How Do We Fix It?

More than any time in recent decades, American politics are deeply divided. Compromise is a dirty word.

"The way that we're running the country is that we're not running the country," says our guest Mark Gerzon, author of the new book, "The Reunited States of America."

As President of Mediators Foundation, the group he founded 25 years ago, Mark has brought people together in conflict zones around the world  Concerned about increasing polarization in the U.S., Mark is working on the ideological frontier between left and right.  

"We can work together to solve the problems we all face in a country we all love," Gerzon tells us on this episode of "How Do We Fix It?" But what we have now is a permanent campaign by both parties. "And after election day they start the next campaign." 

"We can't solve any of the problems we face if we're tearing each other down the whole time."

Mark's fixes include urging individual citizens to engage in discussions with people we don't agree with, asking questions about what they think, rather than stating fixed opinions. 

"Do you want to get drunk on being right and enjoy that feeling of being with the people you agree with and bad mouth the people you don't?," asks Mark.  

News media coverage, he says, is biased in favor of controversy, contests and clashes. 

"There's a whole America out there that's not getting any news coverage. And that's the America where Americans work together."

Resources for compromise and open-minded dialog include: livingroomconversations.orgbridgealliance.useveryday-democracy.orgdemocracyfund.org