Search j 8 a
Jeroen de Flander - Speaking

17 fun fact about famous quotes!

Jeroen de Flander
art of performance by Jeroen De Flander

A few weeks I met Bernard Van Causenbroeck. Like me, he loves great quotes. In fact, he likes quotes so much he dives into them each week on his blog Doctor Quote. Bernard diggs into the meaning of famous motivational and leadership quotes and finds out who said it, what it means, and how can we all apply it’s wisdom today.

Join me in his journey to meet with Daniël Kahneman, the Challenger, airplanes, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and discover how many questions a 4 years old girl ask each day.

Quote: Great Minds Think Alike

Who said great minds think alike?

The quote “Great minds think alike” first appeared at the beginning of the 17th century. It is thought to date back to 1618 where it started as “good wits doe jumpe” with “jumpe” meaning ‘agree with’. It is believed that the earliest example of this phrase in print may have appeared in Carl Theodor von Unlanski’s 1816 biography, ‘The Woful History of the Unfortunate Eudoxia’.

It is a humorous expression that is used when two people think alike at the same time and thus suggests that both people must be very intelligent. Less well known is the second half of the quote, “Great minds think alike, but fools seldom differ”. The second part painfully reminds us that people who come to the same conclusion are not so smart after all.

In his book “Thinking fast, thinking slow”, Noble Prize Winner Daniël Kahneman explains the danger of the concept WYSIATI: What you see is all there is. . In order to believe a story, people do not need completeness, but rather consistency and logic. Our brain tells the best stories that it can from the information available, even when the information is sparse or unreliable. And that makes stories that are based on very different qualities of evidence equally compelling.

Kahneman gives in his book this example of WYSIATI: A person describes his neighbour as follows: “Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful, but with little interest in people or in what is happening in the world. He is gentle and orderly, with a need for structure and regularity and a passion for detail”. Is Steve more of a librarian or a blue-collar worker? Like most people, you probably think that Steve is a librarian because the description fits the characteristics of a bookworm better than that of a blue-collar worker. Except that there are many more blue-collar workers than librarians so the statistical probability that Steve is a blue-collar worker is much higher.

What is group think?

Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives. Groupthink is based on a common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.

The concept was developed by Irving Janis in 1972, an American professor in Psychology. He writes: “The more amiability and esprit de corps there is among the members of a policy-making ingroup, the greater the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink, which is likely to result in irritational and dehumanizing actions directed against outgroups”.

Janis identified 8 symptoms of groupthink, flashing lights that can indicate groupthink (check them in my article). Groupthink in itself is not problematic; in the best cases, groupthink allows you to make decisions quickly as a group, to carry out tasks efficiently and to achieve goals. But in the worst cases, groupthink leads to lame analyses, poor decision-making and disastrous outcomes

After the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, investigators discovered that a series of poor decisions led to the deaths of seven astronauts. The day before the launch, engineers from Morton Thiokol, the company that built the solid rocket boosters, had warned flight managers at NASA that the O-ring seals on the booster rockets would fail in the freezing temperatures forecast for that morning. The O-rings were not designed for anything below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA personnel overrode the scientific facts presented by the engineers who were experts in their fields and fell victim to groupthink. When flight readiness reviewers received the go-ahead for launch from lower-level NASA managers, no mention was made of Morton Thiokol’s objections. The shuttle launched as scheduled, but the result was disastrous

What do people mean with the “obligation to dissent”?

An important task for each group member is to recognise the symptoms of groupthink in time and to alert the others to the dangers. But an even more important task is to install a culture in the group that allows everyone to think freely and critically without being punished by the group.

Within the consultancy firm McKinsey, this open culture is called “the obligation to dissent”. It means that the youngest, most junior person in a given meeting can totally disagree with the most senior person in the room without any concern.

As a leader of a group you can cultivate this open culture by being curious, listening and asking questions, allow different views in a debate and talk to each other until the best solution is found…

In the airline industry this obligation to dissent is far from evident. According to the Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell, the most important aspect of aircraft safety is not the equipment, but how pilots communicate and deal with hierarchy. A lot of crashes are due to a lack of this open debate culture. For example, on Thursday 25 January 1990, an Avianca Boeing 707 flew from the Colombian capital Bogota to New York. The weather over the Big Apple was extremely bad, which led to many delays. Air traffic control ordered the pilots to circle above New York for more than an hour before landing. After half-an-hour, the control tower contacted the plane again and the pilots reported in full panic that, due to a shortage of fuel, they could only keep the plane in the air for another five minutes. Due to poor visibility, a few minutes later a first emergency landing failed. Subsequently, two engines failed and the Boeing 707 crashed at 21.34 near Nevak, 30 kilometres from the airport. Seventy three of the 158 passengers did not survive the crash. According to a number of experts interviewed by Malcolm Gladwell for his book Outliers, the cause of the disaster is clear… poor communication between the pilots and their fear of going against orders from the airport control tower.

What is Charles Darwin’s golden rule?

Charles Darwin, English biologist, revolutionised of course our thinking on natural selection with his masterpiece “On the origin of species” in 1859. His thesis that mankind is descended from the ape naturally met with a great deal of resistance in the nineteenth century. Yet his thesis and his arguments held up very well. And he owed this in large part to his golden rule.

His golden rule was his very simple habit of thought that he paid special attention to collecting facts which did not agree with his prior conceptions. In his autobiography he writes: “I had, also, during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.”

In these days of fake news and self-congratulation on Twitter or Facebook, this golden rule is very relevant and enlightening. Darwin not only makes a plea to be open to someone else’s opinion, but also argues that this obliges you to make your own arguments stronger and more watertight

Explain it to me like I’m a 4 years old

Who said “Explain it to me like I’m a 4 years old” and what does it mean?

The quote got famous by the courtroom drama Philadelphia, where a lawyer was fired by his law firm when they discovered that he was HIV positive. Today it is an oft-heard cri de coeur from entrepreneurs, managers, policymakers and other professionals who are tired of the empty phrases of management bullshit and want to grasp a subject in a clear, understandable way.

How do you explain complex concepts such as net present value, subsidiarity principle or unconditional love in an understandable way? It seems that it takes more insight from a person to explain something simple than something complex. Perhaps that is why Einstein is reported to have said: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it well enough”.

In their book, professors Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach give the example of toilets. Everyone knows the phenomenon of a toilet: a ceramic bowl filled with water. You press a button or a lever and the water, and everything in it, is sucked into a pipe and discharged into a sewer. But how exactly does this work? A group of Yale students were asked to rate their knowledge of some everyday objects (such as a toilet, a zipper or a cylinder lock) on a scale of ten. They were then asked to describe in detail how these objects function. This seemed much more difficult than expected.

In his 1982 book “Critical Path”, futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller estimated that if we were to equate all the knowledge accumulated by mankind by the year one A.D. with one unit of information, it probably took about 1500 years or until the sixteenth century to double that amount of knowledge. The next doubling of knowledge from two to four “units of knowledge” took only 250 years until about 1750. By 1900, 150 years later, knowledge had doubled again to eight units. Today, the rate of doubling is between one and two years.

How can you use the Feynman technique to explain something in a simple way?

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) is considered one of the greatest physicists ever, in the line of Einstein, Bohr and Hawking. He pioneered quantum electrodynamics, developed the Feynman diagram to visually represent the strange behaviour of elementary particles, had a key role during the Second World War in the Manhattan project to develop a nuclear weapon and introduced the concept of nanotechnology.

His secret weapon as a didactician was later renamed the Feynman technique and consists of 4 steps: Define the subject, tell it to a child, discover the parts you don’t know yet and finally organise your pieces of knowledge into a logical story.

The technique works as follows. After you have determined the subject in which you want to immerse yourself, write down all the knowledge you have about this subject in a way that a six-year-old child can understand it. Avoid jargon and additional abstract concepts. As described above, if you limit yourself to complex terminology, then restrict yourself to naming boxes, without looking inside them. Be as concise as possible because a child can only pay attention for a limited time. Think of the famous “elevator’s pitch”: you only have the limited time of a lift ride to get your point across. After that, it is time to pause and consider what elements are missing to make your knowledge coherent. After you have filled in these gaps, you can rearrange your notes into a logical and clear story.

Feinman defines a name as a box and you have to look inside the box. If you really know something, then you can break that knowledge down into pieces and make new connections. He writes: “See that bird? It’s a brow-throated trush, but in Germany it’s called a halzenfugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling, and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird. You only know something about people: what they call the bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way.”

According to a 2013 study, four-year-old girls ask 390 questions a day… So let the child in you loose and ask the why question at least ten times a day!

And to end this post, let me tell you about Einstein and his chauffeur.

What is the story of Albert Einstein and his chauffeur?

Albert Einstein gave many lectures on his difficult to grasp theory of relativity. During these lectures, he was always accompanied by his chauffeur, who waited at the back of the room for the evening to end. After some time, the driver said: “Professor Einstein, now I have heard your lecture on the theory of relativity so often that if I ever had the opportunity, I could explain it perfectly myself.” “Very well,” replied an amused Einstein, “next week we’ll go to a place where they don’t know me. Then you can be at the front.” And so it happened. Entering the hall, Einstein took the driver’s cap and sat down at the back. The driver had no problem reciting the lecture on the theory of relativity perfectly, much to Einstein’s delight. After the lecture, an attendee raised his hand and asked him a tricky question, full of complicated calculations and equations. But the driver answered without hesitation: “My dear man, the answer to this question is very simple. So simple, in fact, that I am now asking my driver at the back of the room to answer it!”