Archive for October, 2014

A Key Component Generating Conscious Experience?

October 29, 2014

The November/December 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind included an article by Christof Koch, who is a former collaborator with Francis Crick, who with James Watson won the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure and the function of DNA. The title of the article is “A Brain Structure Looking for a Function.” The brain structure in question is the claustrum. The claustrum is a thin, irregular sheet of cells, tucked below the neocortex, which is the gray matter that allows us to see, hear, reason, think, and remember. It is surrounded on all sides by white matter, the tracts, or wire bundles, that interconnect cortical regions with one another and with other brain regions. There are two claustra one for each side of the brain. They lie below the general region of the insular cortex, underneath the temples, just above the ears. They have a long, thin wisp of a shape that can be easily overlooked when inspecting the topography of the brain region.

Advanced brain-imaging techniques have revealed white matter fibers coursing to and from the two claustra that it is a neural Grand Central Station. Almost every region of the cortex sends fibers to the claustra. These connections are reciprocated by other fibers that extend back from the claustra to the originating cortical regions. Although each claustrum receives inputs from both cortical hemispheres, but only project back to the overlying cortex on the same side.

Crick looked at these facts and believed that a reliable guide to understanding function, is to study structure. And he, working with Koch formulated the idea that the claustra are a key component of the networks generating conscious experience. This work turned out to be Crick’s Swan Song to science as he was suffering from end-stage colon cancer. He finished his paper with Koch before passing away,

“What is the Function of the Claustrum?, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 360, No.1458, pages 1271-1279.

Additional research supporting this contention of Crick and Koch is cited in the Koch piece in Scientific American Mind. Nevertheless it is always fascinating to speculate about conscious. It is the only product of the brain with which we have direct experience. Yet the brain is raging with activity 24 hours a day. There are many reasons to believe that we can use our conscious experience to improve our focus and ability to attend. We can also use it to control our emotions and it lets us take a third person look at our own interactions with other. Fundamentally, meditation and mindfulness is a matter of learning to control our conscious experience to advantage.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Making Working Memory Work for Older Adults

October 25, 2014

This blog post is taken from the article in Psychological Science (8 October 2014 DOI: 10.1177/095679761458725) by Julia Karbach and Paul Verhaeghen titled “Making Working Memory Work: A Meta-Analysis of Executive-Control and Working Memory Training in Older Adults.” It examined the effects of process-based executive-function and working memory training in older adults (>60 years). This analysis included 49 articles and 61 independent samples. This is an extremely important article for a couple of reasons. Weaknesses in the cognitive performance of older adults have been localized to fluid intelligence, the activities that involve executive control and working memory. As we know from the healthymemory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline” the crystalized intelligence of older adults holds steady and even grows. The sometimes apparent slowness in recall and the difficulty in recalling certain items is due to the enormous amount of information that has accumulated in memory. Most, if not all, of those memories are available if not accessible and will pop into memory at some later time.

The second reason that this article is so important is that it is a meta-analysis of the relevant literature. A meta-analysis is a review and synthesis of the research. And it is the most impressive meta-analysis I have every read. It uses a sophisticated quantitative methodology, one that circumvents the problems noted in the healthymemory blog post, “Most Published Research Findings are False.” This meta-analysis can be regarded as a Gold Standard for meta-analyses.

So the conclusion is clear that these interventions do improve cognitive functions in the aging brain. Moreover, older people benefit just as much as younger people. Previously found age differentials do not maintain.

As an item for future research the authors argue that follow-up research should address the question as to whether the benefits of these interventions will hold over time. Frankly I find this question to be naive and unnecessary. The answer depends on whether these individuals continue to exercise their capabilities after the formal training ends. If someone takes golfing lessons and then does not play golf, would it be surprising if golfing skill declined? If someone learns to play a musical instrument and then no longer plays once the lessons have stopped, would it not be expected that performance on the instrument would decline. So the answer to the questions depends on whether the individual continues to be cognitively engaged and continues to engage in effortful learning (see the healthymemory blog post “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.”

This is the constant theme of the healthymemory blog. Stay both cognitively and socially engaged and continue to learn till the very end.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindful Commuters

October 22, 2014

The front page of the October 20 Washington Post had an article “Mindful’ commuters say deep breaths, clear mind keep them calm under stress.” Although it might sound impossible, people who practice mindful commuting swear it brings tranquility to the daily misery of crowded trains, late buses, honking horns, and traffic jams. According to the article almost 2 million people use one meditation-on-the-go-ap, and plenty of others are downloading a recent explosion of guided meditation podcasts and Web recordings, and others take mindfulness classes.

Mindfulness also is used by drivers who commute. One commuter said she pays attention to her breathing and relaxes when her jaw tightens or her fingers clench the steering wheel during her hour-plus commute. She said that practicing mindfulness has expanded her driving field of vision beyond traffic to include trees, architecture and cloud formations. She says that she thinks that mindfulness makes her a much better driver. When you drive you have to be aware of everything around you. I think that the incidents of road rage would decrease in direct proportion to the number of drivers practicing mindfulness. Headspace is a meditation app for guiding commuting meditations used by about 1.7 million people.

Commuters who ride practice formal meditation focusing on their breathing, noticing when their minds wander and repeatedly returning to their breathing as a way to train their attention. People who drive or ride a bike practice a more informal kind of meditation aimed at increasing awareness. They focus on sights, sounds, and physical sensations that root them in the present moment than in their topsy-turvy minds.

Mindful commuters feel less stressed and can dismiss worries about arriving late. They also tend to be compassionate about their fellow commuters.

Six ways to have a more mindful commute follow from the same article.

Turn your attention from when you’ll get to your destination, it’s out of your control anyway, to your surroundings, particularly what you notice via your senses: Sounds, the feel of your feet on the ground or your rear in a seat, places in your body that feel tight or hot from tension.

If you’re not driving or riding a bike, focus on your breathing. Take five breaths, with deep inhalations and slow exhalations. Then return to normal breathing, but try to notice each breath. You can gaze ahead, or slightly down, at a fixed point or close your eyes. When you notice you’ve become lost in thought spiral of “Oh no, I’m going to be late. My boss is going to be so ticked. I’ll probably get fired. Then I’ll probably starve to death…”), gently return your attention to your breathing and sounds around you. Allow thoughts to come and fgo without attaching any significance to them.

If you’re driving or riding a bike, cut the music and become more aware of the sights and sounds around you: the view of trees or taillights, the sound of birds, the feel of wind on your face. When you notice yourself lost in thought, come back to your senses.

When angry or annoying thoughts are triggered, notice the physical sensations of those thoughts (a tight chest, feeling of heat, tense shoulders) and consciously relax. Try a silent mantra,such as “It’s okay” or “This is out of my control, I’m doing the best I can.”

Use redlights or stops on a train or bus as a reminder to notice whether you’re lost in thought. Then reofocus on your breathing or you senses.

When you walk, focus on the feel of your feet connecting with the ground, your breathing, the sounds around you (even it it’s the steady thrum of traffic) and the feel of the air on your face. When you notice you’ve become distracted or lost in thought, return to your senses.

The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive

October 19, 2014

The title of this blog post is the same title as an article in Current Directions in Psychological Science 2014 23:311 (DOI: 10.1177/0963721414540167) by Tracey J. Shors of Rutgers University.. The healthymemory blog has posted many pieces emphasizing that new neurons continue to be developed until we die. The hippocampus produces thousands of new neurons each day. Unfortunately a significant number of them die and do so within just a few weeks after their birth. So the critical question is how to save these neurons from an untimely death.

As the title states the answer is effortful learning. Although the cited research did not involve human subjects, two important facts need to be remembered. It is difficult and expensive to conduct similar research with humans. And findings from the vast majority of research using non-human subjects do generalize to population of humans.

It has been noted many times in the healthymemory blog that physical exercise facilitates neurogenssis. However, many of these new cells do not survive. It takes effortful learning for there to be a lasting preferential effect on the survival of these new neurons.

Fortunately Dr. Shors concluded the article with a discussion of the relevance of these findings for humans. Here are four recommendations:

  1. spacing trials of training or learning over longer periods of time. (which has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts).

  2. Self-testing (which has been mentioned on previous healthymemory blog posts).

  3. varying the conditions of training or learning

  4. interleaving different topics and/or skills within the same training session.

The fourth item on interleaving different topics or skills might sound like a contradiction of the many healthymemory blog posts warning against the dangers of multi-tasking. The difference here is the time laps between switching. Here the time laps are substantially longer than those commonly done in multi-tasking.

The four recommendations provide vice on how to do new learning. The two important points for the survival of new neurons are:

  1. Learn new knowledge of skills.

  2. The learning should be effortful, requiring mental effort.

8 Myths of Aging

October 15, 2014

This post is in keeping with the theme of recent (and past) healthymemory posts and is also in keeping with this blog’s policy of dispelling myths. It is taken from the A Place for Mom Blog, www.aplaceformom.com/blog “8 Myths of Aging Dispelled.” I have had nothing but pleasant experiences with the A Place for Mom organization. They were extremely helpful in assisting me in finding an appropriate place when we moved my mom to this area. They are the source of much useful information.

Here are the 8 myths.

  1. Aging is Depressing. “Contrary to the myth that aging is depressing, many studies find that seniors are among the happiest age group. Happiness levels by age follow a U-shaped curve, with self reported levels of happiness at their lowest at age 40 growing thereafter. In addition, those who think aging is depressing also believe that it makes seniors grumpier. People who are grumpy in their younger years will likely continue to be unhappyin their later years, but similarly, good natured people continue on a happy trajectory into old age. In other words, one’s attitude comes down to their individual personality, not an age group.

  2. Aging Leads to Loneliness Though social isolation can be a problem for senior, especially those who have limited ability, lack transportation, or who have recently lost a spouse, most seniors are able to stay socially engaged. Activities and visits with friends and familiy and at places such as the local senior center or a place of worship, also help seniors stay socially active and happy.

  3. Aging Dulls Wits and Inevitably Causes Dementia. While aging can create cognitive changes, older people may perform better in certain areas of intelligence and poorer in others. For example,while seniors may have slower reaction times or solve problems slower than younger adults, “mental capabilities that depend most heavily on accumulated knowledge and experience, like setting disputes and enlarging one’s vocabulary, clearly get better over time.” writes Patricia Cohen in the New York Times. What’s more, dementia is anything but inevitable. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, only 5% of those over 65 will develop dementia.

  4. Aging Makes You Unproductive. Though retired people have left the work force, they are hardly unproductive. They contribute countless hours to activities like helping with child-rearing and volunteering, which makes an enormous difference in society. In fact, a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 24% of senior citizens report engaging in volunteering after retirement.

  5. Aging Makes You Less Creative. There are countless examples that dispel the myth that aging makes you less creative. In fact, many actually find their calling or achieve mastery in their later years. A great example is the immortal “Grandma Moses.” Anna Mary Robinson Moses was an ordinary woman who lived on a farm in upstate New York in the mid 1800s. After her husband passed away, Mrs. Moses (as she like to call herself) transitioned from farm work to a quieter life embroidering for fun and making delicious preserves for her now grown children. But, when arthritis made embroidering too painful, a friend suggested she try painting. Moses took to painting scenes of rural life, and even hung a few of her paintings in the local drugstore. Her paintings caught the eye of a prominent art collector who was passing through town and the rest is history. Her first one-woman art show was held in1940 when Moses was already 80-years-old. She became famous and was dubbed “Grandma Moses,” a name that stuck. She continues to paint until the age 101.

  6. Aging Makes You Unable to Adapt to New Situations. Older people who are not able to adapt to new situations, they are actually experts at adapting. By the time one has become a senior, they have had to adapt to innumerable changes and transitions in life, many of which could have certainly been challenging.. Seniors may be slower to change their opinions, but one of humanities greaters traits, adaptability, is generally retained as we grown old.

  7. Aging Erases Your Libido. Discussing the sex lives of seniors is largely taboo in our culture and has led to stereotypes that the elderly are sexless beings. This stereotype is harmful because it can cause seniors to have conflicted feelings or unnecessary guilt about their sexuality, while simultaneously causing younger people to hold misconceptions about aging and the elderly. As a state of Oregon document notes adroitly: “Research has found that sexual activity and enjoyment do not decrease with age. People with physical health, a sense of well-being and a willing partner re more likely to continue sexual relations. People who are bored with their partnes, mentall or physically tired, afraid of failure or overindulge in food or drink are unlikely to engage in sexual activity. These reasons do not differ a great deal when considering whether or no person will engage in sex at any age.”

  8. Aging Make You More Religious. Seniors have a higher rate of religious attendance than younger people, but this is a generational phenomenon rather than an aging phenomenon. If you regularly attended church growing up, you’re likely to continue to do so as you age. Today’s seniors haven’t become more religious with time. Instead they grew up in a time when more people went to church, which is whysenior re the most religious age group.

I find the way this last myth is handled amusing. It’s as if an explanation or excuse was needed to account for a higher degree of religiosity. It’s as if religion were a maladaptive practice.

I feel compelled to reiterate the healthymemory blog’s philosophy of continuing to pursue cognitive growth throughout the lifespan and not to become cognitive couch potatoes. We should continue to grow as we age. s

A Phrase That Should Be Considered Obscene

October 12, 2014

That phrase is “senior moment.” First of all, it is an instance of ageism, which is just as pernicious as racism or any of the other “isms.” But more importantly, it is inaccurate. Regular readers of the healthymemory blog post, should have immediately recognized this inaccuracy. This topic has been broached in many posts. Consider only the immediately preceding post, “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, “ and an earlier post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline. New neurons are continually being generated as we age, and the brain is rewiring itself to account for changes as we age. Any apparent slowness or difficulty in retrieving information is due to the massive amounts of information storage and learning that has occurred during these additional years.

Unfortunately, sometimes this phrase is used as a polite excuse for being slow to recall. Perhaps a substitute phrase should be “due to extreme amounts of information (or perhaps, wisdom, depending how strongly one wishes to push it) there has been a delay in accessing this information. I’ll get back with you when it becomes available.”

The worse use of the phrase is when it becomes a belief. It is easy to think that cognitive decline is inevitable and to accept it. Not only does such a belief become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it accelerates the rate of any decline. We do experience physical decline, but to use any noticeable decline as an excuse for giving up physical activity just increases the rate of decline. We must push ourselves to continue activities as we age.

Similarly, we must not decrease cognitive activities or avoid cognitive challenges as we age. There is reason to believe that we can not only slow the decline, but that we can also continue cognitive growth as we age. We must remain cognitively and socially active as we age and not beg off with the excuse of “senior moments.”

Remember that autopsies have revealed brains wracked with the neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques that are regarded as the signatures for Alzheimer’s, but whose owners never evidenced any symptoms of Alzheimer’s when they were alive.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

October 8, 2014

This post is based on “Old dog, new tricks” in The Scientific Guide to a Better You: New Scientist: The Collection. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has been around for a long, long time. Too long, in fact, to hold under the new findings in science. Neurogenesis continues as long as we live, as well as the ability to learn new things.

I had long believed that there was a critical age for language acquisition. The idea was that we were designed to pick up languages naturally at an early age. However, after the onset of puberty, the task became more difficult. A study by Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, Canada, disabused me of this notion. She studied US census records that detailed the linguistic skills of more than 2 million Hispanic and Chinese immigrants. If there had been a “critical period” for learning a second language in infancy should have created a sharp difference between those who changed country in early childhood and those who were uprooted in adolescence. There was no sharp difference. Rather there was a very gradual decline with age among immigrants. This could reflect differences in environment as well as adults’ rusty brain circuits. It is not that old dogs can’t learn, but rather a matter of old dogs not expending the effort to learn.

Gary Marcus, a psychologist devoted himself to learning how to play the guitar when he was 38. He wrote a book on his experience titled Guitar Zero. Initially his family laughed at him, but eventually they saw that he was that he was making progress. Typically adults are impatient when learning to play a new instrument. They do not want to put up with the frustration associated with this learning, something to which most students adapt.

Another study by Uang Zang at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis focused on the acquisition of foreign accents in adults. When the adults were given recordings that mimicked the exaggerated baby talk of cooing mothers, the adults progressed quite rapidly.

Volunteers visiting Virginia Penhune’s lab at Concordia University in Montreal learned to press keys in a certain sequence, the adult volunteers outperformed the younger volunteers.

Juggling is a challenging ask of hand-eye coordination. Nearly 1,000 volunteers from all age groups learned to juggle over six training sessions. Although the 60 to 80-year olds started slowly, they soon caught up with the 30-year-olds. At the end of the six session all adults were juggling more confidently than the 5 to 10 year olds.

Adults also tend to hamper progress with their own perfectionism, whereas children jump onto tasks while adults are agonizing over the mechanics of movement. Adults tend to conceptualize exactly what is required. Gabriele Wulf of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas says “Adults think so much more about what they are doing. Children just copy what they see.” Wulf’s work shows that we should focus on the outcome of our actions rather than on the intricacies of movement. Similarly overly rigid practice regimes can stifle long term learning. For example, it is better to shoot around the court, rather than trying to perfect a shot from a particular position. Even if one really feels compelled to do this, they should intersperse their shooting with shots from different positions on the court.

We also may have a tendency to lose confidence as we get older, and this can have a big impact on performance. In one study half the students were given a sham test on pitching a ball in which they were told that their performance was above average. They performed better on a test than a ground that had practiced but had not been given sham feedback.

One of the big problems we adults have is finding time to learn. We work, have errands and commitments to others including our families. However, babies have all the time in the world to learn. Food, drink, even their personal hygiene is taking care of for them. Gradually some obligations develop, but some of them regard learning and they still have gobs of time to learn. When we are freed of these obligations, we adults should not forget to take advantage of this additional time to learn new things and to engage in new pursuits.

To address the short amount of time that working adults have, the cognitive scientist Ed Cooke has developed a website, memrise.com that works to integrate learning into the adult day and to take some of the pain out of testing.

It is also important to remember that exercise is important and the amount of exercise can be fairly modest. (See the healthymemory blog post, “To improve your memory, build you hippocampus.”)

Most Published Research Findings Are False

October 5, 2014

The title is part of the title of the epidemiologist Ioannidis’s landmark article “Why Most Published Research Findings are False” (PLOS Medicine, 2, 3124. Doi:101371/journal pmed, 0020124, 2005). Subsequent research has confirmed his conclusion. Many articles followed (see the AAA Tranche of Subprime Science (Gelman and Laken, 2014). The problem hit the popular press with the October 19th cover of the Economist broadcasting HOW SCIENCE GOES GOES WRONG.

Given the ramifications of this conclusion it is remarkable that this problem has not received much wider attention. So the healthymemory blog is standing up to do its part. The reasons for science going wrong are technical, dealing with the misuse of statistical methodology, as well as economic and political. The Economist does a fairly good job in explaining the problem for the layperson. This blog post will provide some examples and try to offer some advice.

As Ioannidis’s is an epidemiologist his critique centered on the medical literature although the ramifications of his article extend far beyond epidemiology. Most importantly the findings deal with our medical care. Readers should be somewhat aware of this as to the frequent contradictory findings regarding what is good or bad for us. Let us begin with the example of medical screening. The 5-year survival rate is one type of information that is given to promote the benefits of screening. This rate is defined as the ratio of the number of patients diagnosed with cancer still alive five years after the diagnosis divided by the number of patients diagnosed with cancer. So this rate is defined by a cancer diagnosis and leads to the conclusion that screening is saving lives. If lives are indeed being saved should it not be seen in mortality rates? A mortality rate is not defined by a cancer diagnosis. The formula for the annual mortality rate is the ratio of the number of people who die from cancer in one year divided by the total number of people in the group. It is not clear what is going on here, but if screening were indeed saving lives then it should be reflected in the mortality rate. When regarded in this light, the 5-year survival rate is a bit like a self-licking ice cream cone. Some ways of presenting the benefits of treatment are much more impressive than others. To learn more about this see the healthymemory blog posts “Interpreting Medical Statistics: Risk Reduction”, and “Health Statistics.”

To take a specific example, consider the Prostate Specific Antigen Test given to screen for prostate cancer. At one time this was regarded as being almost compulsory for males over a certain age. Now it is recommended only for males in a high risk group and, even then, only after consulting with their physician. You might ask what are the risks in screening. Apart from the costs, discomfort, and convenience, there are the side effects. In the case of prostate surgery they could be incontinence and/or impotence.

Research has also shown that many doctors do not understand how to communicate accurate medical statistics to their patients. A study reported by Gerd Gergenzer and his colleagues, “Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics” (Psychological Science in the Public Interest Vol 8_Number2, 2008) showed that few gynecologists understood positive mammograms. First lf all, the gynecologists were given the following accurate information about the women patients.

The probability that a woman has breast cancer is 1% (prevalence).

If the woman has breast cancer, the probability that she will test positive is 90%.

If a woman does not have breast cancer, the probability that she nevertheless tests positive is 90% (sensitivity).

If a woman does not have breast cancer, the probability that she nevertheless tests positive is 9% (false positive rate).

Then the doctors were told that a woman tested positive and that she wanted to know whether she has breast cancer for sure, or what here chances are. The doctors were then given the following choices from which to choose.

A. The probability that she has breast cancer is about 81%.

B. Out of 10 women with a positive mammogram, about 9 have breast cancer.

C. Out of 10 women with a positive mammogram, about 1 has breast cancer.

D. The probability that she has breast cancer is about 1%.

41% responded to option B.

13% chose option A.

21% chose option C.

19% chose option D.

Option C is the correct response.

This is based on Bayes formula for conditional probabilities. A good way of computing this is to use natural frequencies.

Consider 1,000 women.

10 are expected to have breast cancer and the remaining 990 to be free of breast cancer.

Of the 10 with breast cancer 9 should test positive and 1 negative. Of the remaining 990, 89 should test positive and 901 should test negative.

Then we divide the number having breast cancer, 9, divided by the number testing positive (89). The closest multiple choice option being C.

So what does a prospective patient do when the majority of the medical literature is wrong. First of all, do not forget the option of doing nothing. Get multiple opinions regarding your problem. And do your own research. Take all of this into consideration along with your personal values and make a decision, remembering that doing nothing remains an option.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Creative Desperation

October 1, 2014

Creative desperation is the fifth of Klein’s strategies in his book Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight. Creative desperation is the term the Dutch psychologist Adrian de Groot used to describe some of the brilliant strategies that chess players invented when they got into trouble. When the clock was winding down and when they needed to make a move and none of the plausible moves would work, out of desperation they would find an unorthodox line of play that would save them, gambling on something they would never have tried had any of the acceptable moves looked promising.

Most research done in psychological laboratories using puzzles has tried to stymie subjects. Many subjects get stuck and give up. Others struggle feeling lost and then, out of creative desperation have unexpected insights into solving the puzzle. However, creative desperation does happen outside of laboratories and away from chessboards. One of the most amazing examples occurred while fighting a severe forest fire. Wagner Dodge was a thirty-three-old team leader of 15 men. The wind changed and they were caught in a fire moving rapidly towards them. It appeared that there would be no way they could avoid being overtaken and consumed by the fire. Dodge ran ahead and shouted back to his team to do what he was going to do. What he did was to start a fire in front of him. This action made no sense to the rest of the team and was ignored. However, what Dodge did was to clear the ground in front of him. He lay down on ground that had recently been on fire. However, when the advancing fire got to his position it passed him by as there was nothing left to burn. Unfortunately, the remainder of the team was caught by the rapidly advancing fire and perished in the flames.

Another example of creative desperation involves Aron Ralston, an an American mountain climber who was hiking through some canyons in Utah. His story is captured in his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. A movie, 127 Hours, was made of his ordeal. He fell into a crevice and his right arm became pinned by a boulder. He was unable to free his arm with his pocket knife. Then he had the insight to see that the boulder need not be his enemy, it could also be his friend and aid his escape. The boulder provided the solid leverage he needed to break the bones in his arm so that he could free it.

Creative desperation need not involve situations that are quite so desperate. Klein relates a story about his office manager. It was her job to get the time sheets from the staff in timely manner so she could fulfill contractual requirements. Klein admits that he himself was typically remiss in submitting his timesheet. Initially the office manager, Cheryl Cain, provided alerts and reminders about the timesheets. Then she tried badgering. Nothing worked. Out of desperation, she tried something nice. She awarded staff with Hershey candy kisses when they submitted timesheets on time. This action achieved a high degree of compliance.

A total of 29 out of Klein’s 120 cases, just shy of a quarter of the cases fit the creative desperation category.