Book Review — The Power of Bad

Our minds and lives are skewed by a fundamental imbalance that is: Bad is stronger than good. For example, we’re devastated by word of criticism but unmoved by shower of praise, we see hostile face in the crowd and miss all friendly smiles. This book introduced this widely applied fact in everyday’s life, but few people really realise, which is what scientists come to call it negativity bias.

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How Bad Is Bad? — Enlisting the Rational Mind

The Rule of Four

We know that people’s mood are more attached to bad things, but how much bad can really affect a person? A term positivity ratio, which is the number of good events for every bad event, is introduced to measure how bad is bad. And over the time, scientists found the rule of four applies here, which is saying that typically one good thing does not offset one bad thing, more often, to do better than average, it takes at least four good days for every bad one.

Safety Junkies

As it takes so much to overwhelm a bad events, over the years, people have been drawn so much attention to bad. An example is that after the plane hijackings on Sep 11, 2001, the government has squandered over 50 billion dollars over the decades to build an inefficient and incompetent security system to screen passengers. Moreover, American people has tried to avoid plane travel by driving to the destination. However, as driving is even more dangerous, it resulted in an additional 1,600 deaths.

To solve such problems, the writer suggests people to think rationally by really weighing the pros and cons of many counteracts that we are taking when facing or avoiding bad.

Love Lessons — Eliminate the Negative

The writer found that when one’s facing a choice of whether to do better or eliminate bad, the wiser choice, if you can only do one thing, is to eliminate the bad. As eliminating the negative can have a stronger influence than simply doing good. One example is that Dutch researchers found that bad parenting scars children, but being especially conscientious doesn’t reliably make children happier or healthier.

So the guidance for our life is to be good enough, be a good-enough husband, a good-enough wife, a good-enough friend or neighbour, a good-enough teacher or boss, focus not on achieving perfection but rather on avoiding mistakes.

The Brain’s Inner Demon — Wired for Bad

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This chapter mainly introduces the story of how Felix Baumgartner, the first space diving man, was able to overcome fear of mind. Felix was an experience skydiver and has been know by his fans as Fearless Felix. However, when he practiced the space dive and when he put on the space suit, he found himself can not overcome the fear in this mind and decided to quit.

The Fearful Brain

Multiple systems in our brain are evolved to generate the emotions of fear even when we are not consciously aware of a threat, that is saying, even our neural system has a bias towards negative.

Training the Fearless Mind

Felix was finally able to overcome his fear by going through a series of psychological therapies and made a beautiful landing to the earth. There are some tricks we can borrow from his experience and apply them on us to overcome fear.

  1. Talk about it. Sharing your bad emotion can help to ease and relive yourself from suffering.
  2. Map the runaway train and Throttle it. Imagine the process of pain and calm down until you can proceed forward.
  3. Recite your mantra. Keep telling your brain you can pass this through. Like Felix said: you don’t panic to death. You can repeat to yourself: This too shall pass.
  4. Breath. A deep breath is a signal to our body that we’re safe.

Use the Force — Constructive Criticism

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Bad distorts your judgement, but it can also sharpen your wits. Wisely make use of bad can help to achieve expected or even better results. One example is about how to deliver a bad news.

The Wrong Way of Delivering Bad News

For a long time, business executives have been force-feeding their subordinates the “criticism sandwich”. In order to deliver bad news, the manager starts with the employee’s strengths and achievements before getting to the meat of criticism. Then she switches back to conclude with a few nice words and end on a happy note.

But that’s usually not how it feels to the employee. The praises are forgotten and the employee can’t get bad stuff out of his mind. He’s chocking on the middle of the sandwich. A conversation that was supposed to inspire better work has left him demoralised.

The Right Way

Here are some guiding principle applies to delivering any kind of bad news or criticism.

  1. Consider your objective. Do you simply want to help someone cope emotionally with unpleasant facts, or are you trying to spur them to change? Scientists found when people heard about their bad traits first and then good traits, they ended in good mood, but less likely to make correct the bad qualities. And the ones who heard their bad traits last were more worried and eager to make changes.
  2. Ask questions. Follow up on the listener’s status and mood by actively asking their feelings like “how do you think things are going?”, “Is that fair?” or “Does that make sense”?
  3. Once you’ve gotten the criticism across, use the power of bad to your advantage. Once the criticism kicks in, don’t stint on compliments and focus on future improvements.
  4. In doling out praise, don’t worry that it will seem overblown or insincere.
  5. Be creative with your praise.

Heaven or Hell — Prizes vs. Penalties

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Whether you’re trying to improve yourself or someone else, criticism does only so much. If it’s not producing results, or if you’re looking to avoid future problems, you need to use direct incentives, positive or negative.

This chapter tries to answer the question, “to stimulate the expected result, one should use carrot or stick, prizes or penalties?”. The writer claims penalties can be more effective. One example would be in religious belief where, again, negative force turns to be more effective than positive.

“The churches that are drawing people to them believe in sin, hell, and death,” Bishop Wilke explained. “Jesus, who knew what he was talking about, explained them, experienced them, and conquered them. If there is no sin, we do not need a Savior. If we do not need a Savior, we do not need preachers.” Without evil and the threat of hell, preachers would be out of luck, out of relevance, and out of job.

It concludes that an angry god and fear of penalties are main forces that drive people to put faith and moralities into religion.

The same fact goes to bonus payment. Researchers carried a test of giving teachers bonuses based on how much their students maths’ scores improved over the year. One group was given year-end bonus as usual, while another group was given advance payment and required to give back the unearned part if their students does not perform well. The result showed that students came from the second group of teachers performed significantly better than the first group, which concluded that punishment and the fear of lose outweighs simply reward.

In conclusion, penalty can be a useful tool to correct wrongdoings, as we all make mistakes, and the quickest way to help anyone improve is to use the negativity effect properly.

Business 101 — Yes, We Have No Bad Apples

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This chapter elaborates on the power of bad apples in a workplace. Just as negativity can be highly contagious in intimate relationships, it can also spread quickly in larger groups, often without any noticing.

In an experiment an actor played each of the 3 obvious types of bad apples in workplace:

  1. The jerk. It’s someone who subjects his colleagues to mockery, insults, nasty pranks, curses, crude jokes, and assorted forms of rudeness.
  2. The slacker. This “withholder of effort” ducks responsibilities and fails to get his work done.
  3. The downer. This “affectively negative individual” is beset by bad feelings. Abundant research has shown that people interact with a depressed person end up feeling bad afterward.

And it turned out that the team with any of these types were significantly affected and illy performed.

As toxic as it can be, the writer provided some principles for dealing with the bad apples in a group:

  1. Protect yourself. Keep in mind how contagious emotions are and take steps to keep positive.
  2. Rearrange the barrels. Sometimes the apple turns out not to be so bad once it’s moved.
  3. Be careful whom you label. Remember that annoying person is not necessarily an eternally bad apple.
  4. Don’t expect bad apples to change on their own.
  5. Isolate the bad apples.
  6. Intervene early, and don’t be shy about it. You can try starting discreetly with advice and coaching, and enact warnings and penalties when necessary.
  7. When evaluating a bad apple, look at the whole barrel. When consider only individual performance of a jerk, he can seem quite impressive. But you should consider how toxic he is and how much performance he has dragged down the entire team.
  8. Don’t force the good apples to adapt to bad behaviour.
  9. Don’t hesitate to fire a jerk, but don’t be a jerk about it. If no strategies work, just get rid of the bad apple, but when you do so, try to be decent.

Online Perils — The Sunshine Hotel vs. the Moon Lady

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The Casablanca is not the most famous hotel in New York City, and it’s hardly the most luxurious, but it is the most extraordinary. It gets so many 5-star ratings that it was ranked among the city’s top five hotels every single day for more than a decade, typically in first place.

The success secret of the hotel was to focus on the negative comments. In the internet world, bad ratings can spread quickly and even destroy the reputation. Studies confirm that people have online negativity bias: People planning a vacation spend more time studying negative reviews and are more influenced by them than by positive reviews, and people are swayed even by negative reviews that don’t identify any specific problem.

The Peak-End Rule

The secret sauce of Casablanca’s manager is a set of techniques for overcoming the negativity bias and the peak-end rule:

  1. Focus on making a good first impression
  2. Look for ways to create many more good impressions.
  3. Anticipate and eliminate any irritant that could become a negative peak.
  4. Keep monitoring your customers’ reactions to watch for unanticipated problems.
  5. When a complaint arises, respond quickly no matter how petty it seems.
  6. Don’t just correct something bad. Overwhelm it with good.
  7. No matter how crazy or obnoxious the customer, end on a good note.

Don’t let negativity prevail, always think ways to end it with positivity.

The Pollyanna Principle — Our Natural Weapon Against Bad

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The Pollyanna principle is a lot better than it sounds. It’s a powerful psychological effect, based on solid research showing we have innate defenses against the negativity effect — some unconscious, others that can be consciously deployed.

Researchers have found that while many endured a traumatic event at some point in their lives, most didn’t show symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Four out of five did not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) afterward. And in the long run, they typically emerged stronger. Studies have found that more than 60 percent (sometimes 90 percent) of trauma victims undergo post-traumatic growth, including ones who initially showed symptoms of PTSD. Even though a bad event triggers a stronger immediate reaction than a good event, negative emotions typically fad more quickly than a good event.

Glad Games

Studies also found that people’s life satisfaction rises in their old age in regardless of wealth or social status. Older men produce less testosterone, which makes them less aggressive and more compassionate, while older women produce less estrogen, which makes them less anxious and more confident.

But beside aging, there are some general strategies can help us to deliberately playing the Glad Game that works for people at any age:

  1. Change the narrative.Writing about your problems and your feelings forces you to confront the bad in your life and helps you move beyond it by dealing with it.
  2. Share your good news. The more you savour an experience today, the more likely you are to enjoy nostalgizing about it in the future.
  3. Rejoice (or at least fake it) when you hear someone else’s good news. Good, the more communicated, more abundant grows.
  4. List your blessings. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” is one of the most effective strategies identified by the psychology movement.
  5. Make time for nostalgia — and make more good memories. Deliberately creating moments today that will make for pleasant thoughts in the future.
  6. Treasure the past, but don’t compare. It’s better to use the past to make sense of what your life has meant, to see the memories as assets rather than as reminders of what’s missing.

The Crisis Crisis — Bad Ascending

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Our world is filled with fearmongers, whom, by continually fomenting fears, the prophets of doom have profoundly distorted the public’s view of the present and the future. By hyping small or nonexistent threats to induce panicky responses, they create far more problems than they solve.

The Merchants of Bad

These fearmongers comprises journalists, politicians, and an ever-widening array of “experts” in academia, think thanks, corporations, and nonprofit groups. One example is the United States, which has been the world’s military superpower for seventy years, a remarkably peaceful epoch, but experts have been continually alarmed about a “missile gap” or “window of vulnerability” or other supposed threat to the nation’s existence. Small countries like Iran and Iraq suddenly became large menaces, and terrorism was promoted to a permanent crisis after the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Collective Stupidity

We spend so much time and energy worrying about small or imaginary threats that we end up being less safe. The agricultural innovation that used to feed the population in Asia, however, was stymied when introduced to Africa. Fearmongers have been scaring the public that the innovation can be unhealthy while left one million people die each year and more than 250,000 children go blind because of vitamin deficiency.

Cutting the Profits of Doom

The merchants of bad will stay in business as long as there are customers. To elevate public discourse, we need to reduce the profits of doom. The best way to discourage terror pornography or any other form of crisismongering is for people to stop paying attention.

The Future of Good

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Bad will always be stronger than good, but good’s prospects are improving. We’re convinced that bad is more vulnerable than ever because we understand it more clearly than ever.

For this, the writer advocates a low-bad diet. The merchants of bad are no more irresistible than the merchants of junk food. The same basis approaches for dealing with the power of bad in your personal relationships and business — minimise the negative, accentuate the positive — can enable you to overcome the negative bias that skews politics and public opinion.

And lastly, bad is stronger, and at times it may seem indomitable, but we’re confident that good will prevail.

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Hmm…I am a data scientist looking to catch up the tide…

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