Twice as many CEOs believe the global economy will improve in the next 12 months, compared to those polled last year.

But it’s a fragile optimism, which has only led to a small rise in confidence about business growth prospects in 2014. And many CEOs remain very worried about over-regulation and the ability of governments to tackle debt and deficit levels. Yet – for now – serious global risks have been averted and CEOs are thinking once again about growth.

But finding that growth has gotten tougher.
Some emerging economies are slowing down and it’s become increasingly clear that they’re diverging in their fortunes as each faces its own unique issues. At the same time, advanced economies appear to be on the mend, although they too face challenges. It’s clear that CEOs are struggling to interpret these signals, with many concerned about sluggish growth in both emerging and advanced economies.

So how are CEOs responding to the changing global footprint?
Nearly one third say their main opportunity for growth lies in existing markets, compared to just 14% who say the same for new geographic markets. Many leaders are also reviewing their portfolio of top overseas markets. This year CEOs see the US, Germany and the UK as more attractive than some of the BRICS markets, compared to last year. And they’re turning to newer markets to find growth as well – in particular Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand and Vietnam.


People of a certain age (and we know who we are) don’t spend much leisure time reviewing the research into cognitive performance and aging. The story is grim, for one thing: Memory’s speed and accuracy begin to slip around age 25 and keep on slipping.

The story is familiar, too, for anyone who is over 50 and, having finally learned to live fully in the moment, discovers it’s a senior moment. The finding that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology.

Over the years, some scientists have questioned this dotage curve. But these challenges have had an ornery-old-person slant: that the tests were biased toward the young, for example. Or that older people have learned not to care about clearly trivial things, like memory tests. Or that an older mind must organize information differently from one attached to some 22-year-old who records his every Ultimate Frisbee move on Instagram.

Now comes a new kind of challenge to the evidence of a cognitive decline, from a decidedly digital quarter: data mining, based on theories of information processing. In a paper published in Topics in Cognitive Science, a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases.

Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared.

 “What shocked me, to be honest, is that for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults,” the lead author, Michael Ramscar, said by email. But the simulations, he added, “fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn’t need to invoke decline at all.”

Can it be? Digital tools have confounded predigital generations; now here they are, coming to the rescue. Or is it that younger scientists are simply pretesting excuses they can use in the future to cover their own golden-years lapses?

In fact, the new study is not likely to overturn 100 years of research, cognitive scientists say. Neuroscientists have some reason to believe that neural processing speed, like many reflexes, slows over the years; anatomical studies suggest that the brain also undergoes subtle structural changes that could affect memory.

Still, the new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is. It goes without saying that many people remain disarmingly razor-witted well into their 90s; yet doubts about the average extent of the decline are rooted not in individual differences but in study methodology. Many studies comparing older and younger people, for instance, did not take into account the effects of pre-symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease, said Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at Stanford University.

Dr. Carstensen and others have found, too, that with age people become biased in their memory toward words and associations that have a positive connotation — the “age-related positivity effect,” as it’s known. This bias very likely applies when older people perform so-called paired-associate tests, a common measure that involves memorizing random word pairs, like ostrich and house.

“Given that most cognitive research asks participants to engage with neutral (and in emotion studies, negative) stimuli, the traditional research paradigm may put older people at a disadvantage,” Dr. Carstensen said by email.

The new data-mining analysis also raises questions about many of the measures scientists use. Dr. Ramscar and his colleagues applied leading learning models to an estimated pool of words and phrases that an educated 70-year-old would have seen, and another pool suitable for an educated 20-year-old. Their model accounted for more than 75 percent of the difference in scores between older and younger adults on items in a paired-associate test, he said.

That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair).

Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise.

“In essence, what Ramscar’s group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,” said Zach Hambrick, a psychologist at Michigan State University. In a variety of experiments, Dr. Hambrick and Timothy A. Salthouse of the University of Virginia have shown that crystallized knowledge (as measured by New York Times crosswords, for example) climbs sharply between ages 20 and 50 and then plateaus, even as the fluid kind (like analytical reasoning) is dropping steadily — by more than 50 percent between ages 20 and 70 in some studies. “To know for sure whether the one affects the other, ideally we’d need to see it in human studies over time,” Dr. Hambrick said.

Dr. Ramscar’s report was a simulation and included no tested subjects, though he said he does have several memory studies with normal subjects on the way.

For the time being, this new digital-era challenge to “cognitive decline” can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise.

It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.

I was recently watching the live broadcast of the Australian Parliament  as the various members and ministers, on both sides of the house, rose to speak during Question Time. I soon began to get that familiar feeling of disappointment and bewilderment at the quality of the level of discussion so typical of the Westminster system of debate. So I tried a simple metacognition experiment.

As each speaker made their claims and touted their party’s policies in the House (which would also be recorded in Hansard) I simply asked myself: “But, is it true?” “Is what you are now saying a genuine attempt at making a fully true statement?”. And then I gave that statement a ‘truth rating’ out of 10 … 1 being low and 10 being high. An an Elector of Australia I can safely assume this is my right to do so.

Rarely could I confidently answer, “Yes, that is true!” If I had to make a subjective guess I would say that more than 80% of their statements and claims were only half truths … at best. And, as the widely-quoted Yiddish proverb says A half truth is a whole lie.

(NOTE: This is a simple experiment for you to try for yourself. Tune in to, or go sit in, your local equivalent of the Australian Parliament and try this for yourself. If you like, you can post your results below. The same experiment could be used in other situations where the detection of half-truths is required. In the media there are many opportunities to do this in current affairs, business, politics and other programs and articles. Religious sermons, TV commercials, blogs and tweets may also provide useful opportunities to detect half truths. )

For the first time in history lies can travel at the speed of light.

In our exploding world of cybermedia with social media, photoshop, digital manipulation, phone-hacking and peer2peer messaging at the speed of light, I believe that the global epidemic spread of lies may be one of the most serious challenges facing long-term human survival.

I believe this challenge needs to be taken very seriously and could be considered to be of a threat level similar to that of lethal epidemics like Avian or Bird Flu. Many scientists share this view.

As an antidote, SOT has put forward a new thinking methodology to help meet this challenge. To follow on from the previous SOT thinking tools, thinking hats and brain software, this new tool is called: greyscale thinking: how to sort a truth from a lie.

What Makes A Great Teacher?

I was once contacted by a young man in London who is a teacher/coach and personal trainer/consultant. He is in the early stages of his career and he sought my advice. He asked me this question: What makes a great teacher? That is a very good question. It’s exactly the question he should be asking as he embarks on this vocation.

My response to him was this: While there are many things that can make a teacher a much better one there is one non-negotiable, one litmus test, which defines a great teacher. This test is about how the teacher’s performance stacks up to the BIG question: IS IT TRUE?

How to choose Your Teacher. Ask: Is It True?

Is what the teacher is teaching a TRUTH or a LIE? The answer to this question is what sorts out the frauds from the professors. If this test is passed then the teacher can be a great teacher if not then the teacher will always be a failure … in my view.

Making Claims

Anyone can make a claim. All sorts of claims are made in business, in science, in religion, in families, in governments, in education, in politics, on blogs and in the media. But is it a true claim? How closely does it correspond to reality? Or, is the claim a lie? How do we know? Does it even matter?

Yes. It does matter whether a claim is a truth or a lie. For example, many people believe things which are dangerous lies. These lies may have been protected from thinking for hundreds of years. These lies all have consequences which may range from deception to dementia to death.

Like a brainvirus, these lies can infect the brains of very young children. This is happening right now to millions of children as you read this article. I do believe that the global epidemic spread of lies may one of the most serious challenges facing long-term human survival.

ACTION STEP: If you feel this is important (please don’t spam lists of people) but send this article on to a selected friend, colleague or family member who may find it useful.

Greyscale Thinking

To help meet this challenge I am introducing the idea of greyscale thinking (US grayscale). Greyscale thinking is simple, fast and scientific. Anyone, anywhere and anytime can use greyscale thinking to help sort out a truth from a lie.

Any child can learn to use it. Greyscale thinking can be taught to kids by parents and by teachers. Any employee can learn to use it. Greyscale thinking can be taught to employees by managers and business leaders.

The idea of greyscale thinking is: claim divided by questions equals truth or lie. This idea can be expressed as the formula c÷q=t>l.

This means that once a ‘claim’ is made it can then be subjected to ‘questioning’. Questioning reveals whether the claim is closer to being either a ‘truth’ or a ‘lie’.

Six True Questions
SIX TRUE QUESTIONS: The methodology of greyscale thinking is the cognitive skill or habit of putting a CLAIM to the SIX TRUE QUESTIONS: What and Where and When and Why and How and Who – (Click here for more on the questions).

The answers to each of the 6 questions moves the CLAIM to and fro along the greyscale continuum: |  TRUTH – w? w? w? w? h? w? –  LIE |


|       TRUTH                     •           •           •           •                     LIE       |


The answers to each of the 6 questions indicate, on the balance of the evidence, whether the CLAIM is more likely to be a TRUTH or more likely to be a LIE.

MAIN POINT: You will have noticed we are saying “a truth” rather than “The Truth”. Searching for truth is a journey and not a destination. We are more concerned with being right than being righteous. No individual brain can ever contain perfect knowledge of all possible facts. No brain can ever know the contents of the other people’s brains who are also involved in the situation. No brain can ever have perfect ownership of The Truth. And, that’s the point.

The rule of science is that you can have a good idea today, a better idea tomorrow, and the best idea … never! Why? Because there are always more facts to uncover–more opinions, more priorities, more options, more consequences, more positives, more negatives, more objectives, more measurements, and more experiments that can be tested. History has shown this to be a truth.

It is the deliberate effort one makes to move closer to a truth and to move further away from a lie that produces all the benefits of greyscale thinking.

No claim should ever be protected from questioning

Any claim that has ever been made in all of history and any claim that ever will be made can be illuminated, examined, investigated and accepted or rejected using the 6 true questions of greyscale thinking: What and Where and When and Why and How and Who – (Click here for more on the questions).

What is greyscale thinking?
Greyscale (or grayscale) thinking is a tool for sorting out truths from lies.

What is Truth?
Truth is that which, on the balance of evidence, corresponds to reality.

There are two serious cognitive problems we need to solve to survive and prosper. Greyscale thinking is a powerful tool anyone can use for solving both these problems.

Problem One: How to know if a truth is really a lie (or a half-truth)?
Problem Two: How to know if a lie is really a truth?

What difference does it make?
The difference is an immediate increase in:
• your survival intelligence: your skills to survive and prosper in a rapidly changing environment, and
• your speed of thought: the speed with which you can escape from your current view of the situation in order to find a much better view.

How long does it take to learn?
It takes ten minutes a day, for ten days, to learn greyscale thinking. 10 x 10.


On January 24 1984 Apple Computer introduced the Macintosh. My friend, Peter Bensinger Jr, and I both went out and got one each on the day Macs were released in New York City.

I’ve been using Macs every day since then for 30 years. My Mac enabled me to put the School of Thinking online–the first ever online school. SOT is now 100% online and there have been many firsts since then including the world’s first MOOC.

However, it’s safe for me to say that if Steve Jobs hadn’t invented the Mac at that time, I would not have had the skills necessary to build the SOT as it is today. All thinking hats off to Steve Jobs! Here he is presenting his game-changing brainchild …

This Australia Day, enough with actors and sports stars. Researcher Cameron Turner says there is one Australian who deserves the accolades more than any other — and you’ve never heard of him.

crikey-logo Cameron Turner | Jan 24, 2014 12:50PM |

On Sunday we celebrate our achievements as a nation and our great compatriots, and since 1960 we have been giving out the “Australian of the Year Award” every January 26. Chief among the heroes who tug on our sense of national pride are sports stars, Hollywood actors and artists. Rarely at the forefront of the celebrations are the many great scientists and intellectuals Australia has produced.

The Australian gave the first and second places on its list of “The Greatest of All” 50 top Australians to Banjo Paterson and Sir Donald Bradman. The list contained 12 sportspeople, nine entertainers and only three scientists. Nowhere on the list was the scientist who is arguably one of the greatest of them all, but who is little remembered today.

Sir William Lawrence Bragg was born in North Adelaide in 1890. He is the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize, which he did at only the age of 25.

At 31 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, the oldest and most elite scientific society in the world — a qualification that, he said, “makes other ones irrelevant”. He would live through two world wars, and in 1941 he received the knighthood for his scientific contributions.

Son of an equally decorated scientist, Sir William Henry Bragg, young William Lawrence Bragg made his first scientific contribution as subject, rather than experimenter. After William Lawrence broke his arm falling from a tricycle, his father used the recently discovered powers of X-rays to investigate the break; this was the first surgical use of X-rays in Australia.

A keenly interested scientific mind from an early age, Bragg spent much of his time at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, which his family played a part in maintaining, and collecting shellfish, discovering a new species of cuttlefish. At 14 he entered the University of Adelaide, where his father held a position, studying mathematics, physics and chemistry.

His father’s following academic appointment was at the University of Cambridge, and he took the family to England, where father and son made discoveries relating to X-rays that earnt them the Nobel Prize in physics in 1915, a year where they beat some tough competition in Max Planck — formulator of the field of quantum physics — and Albert Einstein.

One could be tempted to think that as a first-year research student Bragg took a backseat to his decorated father. Quite the contrary, Bragg’s biographer, Graeme Hunter, reports that it was the son’s insights that drove the research forward. It was in this time he formulated “Bragg’s Law”, which allowed the calculation of the position of the atoms within a crystal by examining the diffraction of X-rays.

Somewhat like examining the silhouette of an object by shining a light on it, X-ray crystallography allowed the atomic structure of various materials to be investigated; it is particularly useful in the study of metals and biological materials.

Bragg was one of that unlucky generation who twice had to endure total war. His research was halted, but his scientific acumen allowed him to avoid combat and contribute to the war effort by working on techniques to locate enemy guns using sound. His brother Robert wasn’t so lucky, dying in Gallipoli in 1915. For his contribution to the victory of the Allies in World War I Bragg received the Military Cross and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Having already achieved so much, when he returned to uninterrupted research after World War II he still had one major contribution to humanity to give. Bragg became interested in the application of his X-ray methods to the structure of proteins, and was in part responsible for creating a research group at Cambridge’s famous Cavendish Laboratory for their investigation.

It was during this time that the group’s research began the investigation of the structure of one protein in particular: deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Bragg played an important part overseeing the research of the young Francis Crick and James Watson, who successfully identified DNA’s double-helix structure via X-ray crystallography. It was on the recommendation made by Bragg nine years before he died in July 1971 that the duo received their Noble Prize.

William Lawrence Bragg didn’t score runs for Australian or gain international acclaim in Hollywood. But he contributed massively to advancing scientific knowledge.

It’s hard to measure just the extend of the impact of Bragg’s work, but two quick examples: his method of X-ray crystallography was fundamental in the understanding of the properties of many chemicals, including silicon, which is the basis of modern computer chips; his contribution to the discovery of DNA unlocked the new field of molecular biology and all the discoveries and medical therapies that have come from that.

So take a moment this Australia Day to remember a truly great but little-remembered Australian.




For a beautifully presented lecture from the Royal Institution on how The Braggs’ work is foundational to so much modern science in chemistry, materials research and biology, sit back for an hour and enjoy …