Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, January 20, 2020
If you make New Year’s predictions later in the month, you have the great benefit of hindsight.
By this time in January, you will have stopped going to the gym, chosen to eat chocolate ice cream (but, showing some restraint, at least are not using a ladle), bought the purse you didn’t need that was never on sale anyway, decided you missed the 28 percent increase in the S&P 500 and have now gone all-in on bitcoins and are looking for a new job that will fill your desire to improve mankind as well as pay you three times your current salary. Welcome to 2020.
Now, let’s breathe for a minute and embrace an empowering mantra for the year — Say No to Negativity.
This comes from a new book by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister, “The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us.” I am fascinated by the topic. On a personal note, I often find myself muttering the phrase, “I could be happy.”
This is my way of warding off the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that beset me (and all entrepreneurs) daily.
The human tendency to choose negativity originates from the basic research of my pals Dan Kahneman and Amos Tversky who studied the stock market and found that people experience a loss much more intensely than they experience the joy of an equal gain.
When our stock goes up, we are not impressed, but when it goes down, we open the window on the 39th floor. In other words, we humans are built to embrace and react intensely to criticism, disappointment, failure and assorted other adverse events, rather than to revel in and delight in positive outcomes and praise. (This explains why most of us need to be in therapy.) However, one devilish way to counteract our own tendency to tilt toward negativity is by indulging in a bit of schadenfreude (pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune).
To do that justice, I have turned to the MIT Technology Review. They highlighted a few failures of 2019 — which should give us all renewed comfort that our own particular stupid idea didn’t make the list.
To wit: At a 2015 TED talk Caleb Harper introduced hydroponic boxes stuffed with electronics and Artificial Intelligence — he was going to create “cyber agriculture.”
It turned out that his food computer was nothing more than a glorified grow box that didn’t work very well. But he raised money (and lost it all eventually) by telling the world that his dingus would use machine learning to grow basil.
Recombinetics made the top 10. It was gene editing for dairy cattle. But when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a look, they found some bacteria had made its way into Bessie, and the entire stock of animals was incinerated.
And the winner and still champion — Samsung’s $2,000 folding phone. A technology wag described the phone’s propensity to fall apart as the whole idea being “unhinged” from anybody actually wanting to fold a phone. So you see there is no good reason for you to be so negative, when others have done it for you so deservedly.
Tierney and Baumeister’s plan for overcoming negativity is the “Rule of Four.” They show that negative emotions (think fighting with your wife or coworkers) “have at least three times the impact of a comparable positive one.”
In other words, it takes four compliments to make up for one criticism. Now you can quickly see how this is heading toward the dark clouds of the gambler’s dilemma.
Down early, you stay at the table because you want to get back to even — and we all know how that ends.
I wonder if like Little League, maybe there is a mercy rule (four innings, 10 runs) and you can just hit replay and start over. Even worse, they say bad first impressions are hard to erase. (I do not think four is going to be enough for the guy whose car I ran into last week).
Still, I remain ever the optimist. I am not telling you to embrace Pangloss, but for sure one side of the street is always sunny. Like I said, welcome to 2020 — I could be happy — and so could you.
Rule No. 643: It was only a scratch; it can be buffed out.