Last week, I spewed about the unfairness of first impressions.  It has come to my attention from the rumblings of other rabbits that there was a disconnect in my last entry.  I feel the need to attempt to clarify.

I decided to discuss Atul Gawande, whom I read about in Sofia’s class notes.  I’d like to provide an example of how a lifetime of first impressions can be tainted by one very negative first impression.  If a doctor has a solid, twenty-two-year reputation for being a good healthcare provider, he may think that his reputation is set for the rest of his career.  He has established himself as a professional.  He is confident in his reputation.  One day, he examines a nervous young woman.  She is a new patient who came to see the doctor because of a pain in her lower left pelvis.  The doctor leaves her to undress so he can examine her.  She lies down, shivering in the paper gown, gnawing on her lower lip as the doctor places her feet in stirrups.  The doctor begins the examination.  The young woman, anxiously overanalyzing the examination, shrieks when she perceives the doctor’s touch to linger to long in an area she considered nonessential to the examination.  She screams at the doctor to leave the examination room, hurriedly dresses, and dashes through the waiting room toward the exit after pausing long enough to inform the receptionist that the practice could expect a lawsuit.

In this example, the storm the young woman is about to create will call the doctor’s reputation into question.  One negative first impression may be all it takes.

I related the doctors’ conundrum to my own life.  Every time the breeder paraded humans by my cage, I needed to place myself at the mercy of that human to earn its trust and affection.

My overall point was that the unfairness of how regarding first impressions can discount every other good thing about a person or rabbit.  It makes me want to go hide inside Kevin’s dresser.

Sofia has asked me to tell you rabbits how I feel about my blogging effort thus far.  To be honest, I’m still trying to find what works for me.  I’m such a curious little bunny, and I have so many thoughts.  I find it difficult to express the complexity of my thoughts in a manner representing the simplicity in which I believe.  It’s getting easier for me with each passing week, and I thank my readers–all four of you–for pointing out when I get ahead of myself.

Sofia’s professor has talked about the “exercise of generating contexts and testing structure with them.”  I think this is where I need work.  I like the idea of generating a context or two and then testing scenarios within them.  That was my intention when I discussed first impressions and one very bad first impression ruining every other first impression.  Rather than scrap that entry, I attempted to reconcile the loose ends at the beginning of today’s entry.  It is clear to me, however, that I need to further outline my thoughts in the form of a context and then one or two test scenarios that apply to that structure.  It all seems to come down to “habits of mind,” another concept I am stealing from Sofia’s professor (I hope he doesn’t prosecute bunnies for plagiarism).

I believe I have good habits of mind when I read.  I conceptualize what I read.  I think about it long after I close the book.  I make Sofia jot down thoughts on post-its that I methodically stick to the first page that triggers the line of intrigue or exploration.   On the other hand, I am working on improving my habits of mind when I write.  I can’t wait to narrow the reflection I write into a more concrete framework that tests potential scenarios.  It reminds me of Sofia’s accounting schoolwork.  She’s told me about systems control testing.  I think I’m on track to become the first ever lagomorph internal auditor.  What will my working papers be?  Why my blog, of course.

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Even in the bunny world, first impressions count.  I realized this on my forty-second day of life.  I was still living in Shelby County in a dingy, mosquito-infested rabbit-making shed.  I was rousing myself from my daytime slumber and getting ready to party the night away in my 12″ by 12″ by 12″ cage when the usual stench in the shed weakened.  The one-toothed breeder was walking in with two younger humans in tow.

The young humans were there to adopt a rabbit, and the one-toothed breeder kept putting rabbits in their arms.  I was scooped up by a young male with straw on his head and face (blond straw attached to his head and face–the oddest thing I’ve ever seen).  He held me close to his chest, and I snuggled in.  Why not?  He seemed nice enough.

I was put back in my cage as the young humans went to pick up other bunnies.  I peered out of bars of my tiny stainless steel prison and watched the girl hold a toffee-colored buck.  He made sure to scratch her before settling in her arms, just to let her know who was in charge.  The one-toothed breeder took the buck while the young humans came for me again.  This time, it was the female who picked me up.  I sniffed her a little, peered at the brown curled straw on her head, and proceeded to nestle in to her chest.  The next thing I knew, I was in a swerving car.

Now here’s the thing: because I was only 6 weeks old, the female did not initially want me.  She thought I might be too young  (as if! it was almost my six-and-a-half week birthday).  The male insisted on me because I was sweeter than the buck who scratched the female.  A few short months later, I am happily settled in to my life as Sofia’s bunny-child.  Life is swell, even if it is a little unfair.

The toffee-colored buck, Zeus, had never scratched the one-toothed breeder before.  His coat was actually shinier than mine.  However, his dreams of becoming litter-box trained, munching on rubber cords, and being tucked in each night disappeared as soon as he scratched the girl.  After all, first impressions do count.

Atul Gawande once  explained to me that in medicine, “how each interaction is negotiated can determine whether a doctor is trusted, a patient is heard, whether the right diagnosis is made, the right treatment given.”  It doesn’t matter if Gawande’s last sixteen patients had malignant moles correctly diagnosed and removed if his seventeenth patient dies from a malignant mole.  With each patient, Gawande has to prove himself all over again.  One malpractice or negligence lawsuit and his name is smeared for the remainder of his career, his past accomplishments are discounted, and his credibility will never fully recover.

The buck had the same issue.  It didn’t matter if he had never scratched anyone in his short life–scratching Sofia ruined his chances of adoption.  Humans claim a first impression is made in 3-5 seconds, so even once Zeus settled in her arms, his reputation, personality, and friendliness had already been discredited.

Rabbits have embarrassingly poor short-term memories.  For that reason, every time they a new setting, they have to sniff out their surroundings and make a new mental exit route (in case a predator shows up).  Except for their mothers (and sometimes fathers), rabbits reevaluate humans each time they meet them.  In a sense, a rabbit gives you as many chances to make a first impression as you want.  Humans, though, do not accept this.

Humans typically gather a first impression in 3-5 seconds.  According to my research (I had Sofia type for me–honestly, not having opposable thumbs is quite limiting), a human is more likely to have an impression get worse than better, and a negative behavior can readily undermine a positive one.  For example, each interaction someone like a doctor has with new patients is potentially forming his career.  If he has always made good first impressions, he may be regarded highly in the medical community and by his patients.  One scandal resulting from a death by mole incident and the doctor’s positive first impression in the medical community disintegrates.  While this is a loose application of the 3-5 second first impression, it is nevertheless the truth.

Further (and more disturbing) research revealed that in an informed setting, first impressions can be startlingly accurate.  Sofia showed me a study where nine female undergraduates viewed just 30 seconds of silent recordings of 13 different instructors.  Each 30-second recording showed 10 seconds of the instructor teaching at the start of class, 10 seconds in the middle, and 10 seconds at the end.  Using only the 3o-second recordings, the undergraduates rated the instructors in 15 categories (i.e., competency, confidence, honesty, likability, professionalism, warmth, etc.).  The study compared the ratings of the undergraduates to the ratings from evaluations given by (different) students who had taken a semester long class from these same instructor.   The overall correlation for the 15 item scale was .76 — meaning that those 30-second silent first impressions were remarkably similar to what students concluded about their instructors after spending 16-18 weeks in class with them.   What concerns me, though, is not the typical accuracy of a first impression, but rather the inaccuracies.  How many erroneous first impressions are never corrected?

As far as one impression invalidating all of your past impressions, consider the following.  For a doctor, it does not matter how many lives he has saved or how many patients love him.  If he fails to save one patient, his reputation could be irreparably damaged.  If he has one patient who becomes very upset after a first impression and writes a stinging review laden with accusations, all of his previous first impressions will not matter.

What’s a human to do?  There are clearly to issues to contend with: unwavering first impressions and the blanketing effect of a negative behavior over a lifetime of positive behaviors.

Sources:

http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/07/the-accuracy-of-first-impressions-an-amazing-old-study-about-thin-slices-of-behavior.html

http://www.askmen.com/money/professional_100/104b_professional_life.html

http://www.usatoday.com/money/jobcenter/workplace/successstrategies/2002-11-15-impression_x.htm

http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/ideasatwork/feature/131462/A+little+bad+behavior+goes+a+long+way

Gawande, Atul. Better, page 82  (http://www.amazon.com/Better-Surgeons-Performance-Atul-Gawande/dp/0312427654/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252722975&sr=8-1)

Diligence and Systems

September 5, 2009

Human transportation is hectic.  Pedestrians hate cyclists, cyclists hate pedestrians, and drivers hate them both.  Me?  As a lagomorph, I limit my abhorrence to driving.  Driving: sitting in Sofia’s PriceWaterhouse Coopers green and white tote bag, panting with terror, eyes wide open, my little stomach flip-flopping inside of me.  Driving is nonsensical to the rabbit culture—we’re generally content with hopping places, and we don’t typically go to any place to which we cannot hop.

For instance, there seem to be speed limits that incredibly become speed averages.  When I was driving on I-74 from Lakewood to Champaign, Kevin (my adopted father) would alternately speed up around trucks, slow down around cars with red, white, and blue flashing lights, and slow down when drivers were riding his tail (that’s an expression—he doesn’t actually have a tail).

I overheard an angry conversation one day when Kevin was pulled over for a speeding ticket.  He was apparently unaware of the speeding limit and just driving with the flow of traffic.  He was in the middle of the flow, he insisted.  I think we all know what happened to cause his anger.

Yes.  One of those red, white, and blue light-flashing-cars stopped to chat and gave him a ticket.  Not long after, Sofia’s father (my adoptive grandfather?) had a similar issue that resulted in a similar ticket.

Why do humans concoct complex traffic rules if no one has any intention of following them?  That’s right, my fellow bunnies, I have NO sympathy for either male.  In my humble, nose-wrinkling opinion, it seems that traffic laws should be obeyed everywhere and at all times.  For instance, I realized that Kevin does not obey the same traffic laws everywhere.  When he was driving Sofia and me home from Lakewood, a small town in Shelby County with a population of 404, I noticed he drove like a bunny with swine flu on those country back roads.  Once we were in Champaign, though, he was more careful.

Sofia says that Kevin’s driving is not uncommon for humans.  She told me that traffic laws exist for people’s protection.  Apparently, many humans only observe traffic laws when they believe they are being watched.  That doesn’t seem right to this here bunny.  No sir.

Although…the more I think about it…

Why do humans have a system for traffic that is only spottily obeyed?  What good is it to anyone if it is not obeyed?  Do drivers ignore traffic laws when they don’t find them relevant?  For instance, would the common human ignore a speed limit of 65 mph on I-57 if there were only two cars on the next 264 miles of highway?

My bunny instincts tell me that yes, a normal human would probably go as fast as his/her car could handle.

How about a traffic system that is not obeyed in the rural areas?  14 year-olds driving and crashing tractors?  Drunk driving in sparsely populated areas because the human thinks it unlikely to encounter another living being?

The real kicker about this system is not the petty tolls or the rolling stops at stop signs (Sofia will never admit it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign…).  Instead, it’s the inherent flaw in a system that cannot even protect its closest adherent, a theoretical driver who obeys traffic laws with error-free precision.  No matter how lawfully one drives, there is no way to protect yourself from other drivers.

Attorney generals known to be tough on drunk drivers are discovered to have crashed with blood alcohol levels three times the legal limit.  Police officers are caught driving drunk in the opposite lanes.

My bunny instincts just tell me that it’s best to stick to old fashioned transportation.  No one gets hurt when everyone is walking.  Sometimes, in creating innovative systems to make their lives easier, humans just complicate everything.  For an example of communities that function well without traffic laws, look no further than the Amish and lagomorphs communities.

Expectations

August 29, 2009

The course name, “Designing for Effective Change,” sounds important.  The large, technologically well-equipped classroom in which the class is held suggests important learning will take place.  The students, freshmen through senior, study a variety of important-sounding majors.  It is perfectly logical to assume that I have important expectations for a discussion-based class where important ideas will be exchanged.

That perfectly logical assumption, my fellow bunnies, would be perfectly incorrect.  In fact, I will take advantage of the annonymity of the world wide web to be honest:  I haven’t the foggiest idea what to expect of this course.  I do not understand the focus of the course (yes, I know, “Designing for Effective Change”—but really, what does that even mean?, I do not understand what is expected of me, and I do not understand how to link to people’s blogs.  Really, I am hopeless.

So let’s leave that topic alone.

I picked this course for because I needed to fulfill my CHP class requirements and have not attended a seminar course yet.  I also did not want to take an off-the-wall course that I might consider an inefficient use of my time.  Therefore, I selected ‘Designing for Effective Change” because the course description identified a reasonable-sounding mix of humanity and business (I’m sorry, but at this point in my college career, I enjoy the familiarity of a business course).

This past Wednesday, August 26, the class discussed  Yunus and microcredit.  As a business major, this is an idea to which I have exposure.  Yet, I’ve never taken the time to really think about micro crediting beyond the numbers.  Obviously, Yunus’s idea to extend micro loans shows a desire to help a social class ignored by the existing banking infrastructure.  What has turned into an industry in third-world countries was not established with the intention of However, working with micro loans is not a cut-and-dry business that is socially responsible by donating .6% of its profits.  It is a business anchored in ethics, morality, and trust.

The relationship between ethics/morality/trust and micro crediting is a delicate one.  Micro crediting is ethical because it charges a low interest rate, is moral because it extends opportunity to a social class ignored by society, and involves trusting the borrowers to repay the loan.  However, if a bank charges too low an interest rate, grants loan indiscriminately, and is not repaid by borrowers, the concept of micro crediting does not work in practice.  To me, what is remarkable is the risk Yunus took with ethics/morality/trust  to make micro crediting a reality.

It seems to me that it is not unusual for someone in academia to use his expertise to develop a numerically-sound system that could help the impoverished members of society.  What I believe is unusual is for someone implement their brain-child.  Yunus risked financial ruin, failure, and academia’s disdain on the relationship of ethics/morality/trust and micro crediting.  I believe that risk is what qualified Yunus as a designer for effective change.

Hester Eleanor Prynne

August 25, 2009

Welcome to the blog expressing the innermost thoughts of Hester Eleanor Prynne.  Be prepared.  She’s intense.

Note:  Hester Eleanor Prynne is a Holland Lop.  She weighs 2.5 pounds.