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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Anonymous Methodology

VICE: How do you go about sourcing the information that has led to naming the four suspects? Anonymous: The information we have gathered comes from a combination of internet research and informants. It's a lot more like being a journalist than it is being a detective. We use advanced search techniques to comb the internet for statements, photos, videos, whatever we need. We can locate statements by suspects made years ago on accounts they may not even know still exist. We've also developed a level of trust with our online community and they feel comfortable speaking with us because they know we'll protect their identities. We validate their information in the same way the police might, by cross referencing stories and doing background checks on the individuals who are providing the information. There's also a psychological factor. It's important to recognize the motives behind the person who is providing you the information. Some people just want to be involved so they'll embellish their accounts or perhaps they want revenge. You can't always count on a person's memory either so it's important to test them to discover if the story they are telling you has been compromised by time or their emotional state.
I'm a bit at odds with myself over Anonymous.  Clearly, they're filling a role that isn't properly addressed by our public institutions, but our public institutions have names and faces that can be held accountable. 
Yes, it is essential in our current social configuration for people to have the safety of anonymity to bring forward information, but when the institution aggregating that data has no face or name, who holds them accountable?
Generally, they seem to do a good job of holding themselves to a fairly high bar but if history is any indication, institutions that aren't held to account have a tendency to drop the bar over time.  It happens to all of 'em.
The best solution is to focus on the last line of the quote posted above.  If we can all learn to take a step back and deconstruct our own perspectives to find out where our inevitable biases are (you can't avoid it - emotions are the filters through which we process data) we can manage those emotions and avoid the urge to strike out or strike back and instead stay focused on moving forward.
It's not a matter of resisting institutionalization but accepting that we're all part of a social system and working, together, to make that system function well.  Whole, parts, etc.
It'll never happen, but it's nice to think about.

Friday 12 April 2013

What Success Looks Like

People don't like complexity.  It strains the brain and takes time.  The most efficient way to get between two points, obviously, is a straight line.
But success isn't a destination - it's an achievement.  Some people are lucky and have the stars align for them; they have a mentor who opens doors or a family member who opens doors.  They're born with the right genetic gifts that attract success to them.
For most people, though, success comes through countless iterations of trial and error, course correction and a constant deepening of one's understanding of the market.  It's messy, convoluted and requires soul-searching and contemplation - all things we don't have the time for.
Success isn't a big reward you get at minimum personal cost; it's something that comes at the end of significant investment, often in the face of an uncertain outcome.
Is it any wonder innovation is sluggish in an environment that focuses so heavily on demonstrable ROI?

Thursday 11 April 2013

Rehtaeh Parsons, rehcaet

I have a theory.
There's a part in most people (narcissists and psychopaths being exceptions) that sees empathy as a strength.  Our superheroes are people of conscience who always put others first, even at the risk of personal sacrifice.  We worship those who give their lives on behalf of the people.
We want to be strong enough ourselves to be the change we long to see in the world. 
But we're afraid that we aren't.  We don't know if we have the endurance, the will, the patience or wisdom to make the right choices, to make consequential sacrifices if and when the time comes.  Equally, we're afraid we'll be mocked for trying.  It's a cruel world, after all; it isn't worth the risk of exposing oneself through acts of kindness.
As such, we admire strength of character from afar or resent it as a bright light that brings into sharp focus the shadows of our owm inadequacies.  At our weakest points, we will seek to put out that light and keep our own personal failings in the dark.
I don't know what was in the heads of the boys who raped Rehtaeh Parsons, nor why they felt it necessary to post pictures of their sins.  But I can guess.  They wanted to be seen as tough, powerful enough to pluck the wings off an angel.
Everything I have read about Rehtaeh suggests a person of strength who put others before herself.  There's nothing more powerful that the testament of a father who recognizes that his child will surpass him and knows humility in their presence.
With her death a light has gone out of the world, but it doesn't need to be extinguished entirely.
Not if we're willing to pick it up and carry it.
Society did let Rehtaeh down, but her death need not be in vain.  People around the world are raising their voices, demanding justice, wondering how this could have happened, wanting action of some kind.  Rehtaeh's death has mobilized us; what will we do with our raised voices? 
Let's honour this sacrifice by not fixating on what can't be changed and instead flipping this around, seeing what we can do better moving forward.
Perhaps the best place to start is to ask - what would Rehtaeh do?

Beautiful Memorial To a Daughter (Glen Canning)

My daughter was three years old when we went to watch Babe: Pig in the City. There's a part in the movie when Babe knocks over a goldfish bowl and the fish falls onto the floor and starts flopping around. When this happened Rae suddenly stood up on her chair in the movie theatre and started screaming for someone to help the fish. She cried for it as I tried to reassure her Babe would help (thank God he did) and that the fish would be alright.
That was the nature of my daughter Rehtaeh. She was like that her whole life. I couldn't go for a walk in Halifax with her without her asking me for change to give to someone in need. She was always looking out for people or animals that needed help. She called Animal Control Services on our neighbors because they left their dog outside too long. Her room and her life was always full of little creatures.
Sometimes her heart was too big, sometimes it scared me.
They say parents need to teach their children. Instead, it was Rehtaeh who was my teacher. My precious gift. She was the absolute best part of my life.
There's a wooden box in my house that holds all the memories I have of my beautiful little girl. The outfit she wore home from the hospital, a hand print in clay, art, school cards and drawings, mementoes of her life. Even a newspaper dated December 9th, 1995, the day she came into this world.
I tried to keep it all for her, to have someday when she grew up and had her own family. That day will never come.
Rehtaeh died April 7th at 11:15 PM. She was 17 years old.
She died struggling to live, much as she spent the last 18 months. She hung on right to the very end, when the nurses were telling us if she couldn't be declared brain dead soon they couldn't use her as an organ donor. We couldn't wait any longer. She couldn't live any longer. And right at the last moment there was a change in her blood pressure as the last part of her brain gave away. She knew she had to leave. It was time to let go and find peace.
It was so like her to hang on right up until the very last second. To give us all a chance to hold her hand, wipe her tears away, and kiss her beautiful face for the last time.
I tried my best to save my daughter's life. I believe that in my heart.
I asked her repeatedly what I could do, was I doing enough, what did she want from me? She said she just wanted me to be her dad. To make her laugh. To do everything possible to keep a part of her life normal. She said it helped more than I could ever know.
I prayed for the best while I prepared her for the worst. We went to counseling together. Sometimes I was the drive, sometimes the father, sometimes the counselor.
The worst nightmare of my life has just begun. I loved my beautiful baby with all my heart. She meant everything to me. I felt her heart beating in my soul from the moment she was born until the moment she died. We were a team. We were best pals. We often sat on my couch and laughed until we could hardly speak. When we weren't together she would call me or text me every single day, just to say hi, to say she loved me. The life I had with my daughter was a rare thing. It was wonderful, it consumed me. I was defined by it. It made my life rich and beautiful.
She was amazing.
Yesterday I looked at another wooden box. It will hold her ashes. I hate it.
I had to write something about this. I don't want her life to defined by a Google search about suicide or death or rape. I want it to be about the giving heart she had. Her smile. Her love of life and the beautiful way in which she lived it.
I found out this afternoon my daughter saved the life of a young woman with her heart. How fitting.
She also gave someone a new liver, a kidney, a new breath, and a new chance to love. She saved the lives of four people with her final gift of life. She was that wonderful.
Someone out there is going to look at the world with my daughter's eyes. The most beautiful eyes
I have ever seen.
To the Justice Minister of Nova Scotia
Rehtaeh Parsons thought the worst outcome for her case would be no charges against the men who raped her but we all know better. The worst thing that could happen would be charges. That they would be found guilty, and that Rehtaeh would sit on a court bench and listen in utter disbelief as they were given parole, or a suspended sentence, or community service. All for completely destroying her life while they laughed.
Why is it they didn't just think they would get away with it; they knew they would get away with it. They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation.
How is it possible for someone to leave a digital trail like that yet the RCMP don't have evidence of a crime? What were they looking for if photos and bragging weren't enough?
Why was this treated like a minor incident of bullying rather than a rape? Isn't the production and distribution of child porn a crime in this country? Numerous people were emailed that photo. The police have that information (or at least they told us they did). When someone claims they were raped is it normal to wait months before talking to the accused?
You have the opportunity here to do something good and lets face it; the court system in Nova Scotia was just going to rape her all over again with indifference to her suffering and the damage this did to her.
My daughter wasn't bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police.
She was my daughter, but she was your daughter too.
For the love of God do something.
***I've been contacted from media outlets from all over the world and as a past member of the media I understand why you all want to speak with me. You have all been very courteous, professional, and respectful. Please know, however, this is the only statement I am able to make. I'm too devastated.***
I feel like I'm dead inside.

The Role of Government

Call me naive, but isn't the role of a democratically elected government to represent the voice of the community - and ensure every voice gets reflected in decision making?  Through justice services, aren't governments supposed to put a floor on acceptable behaviour and provide mechanisms for restoration, reconciliation and rehabilitation?
We have a consumer-based culture that's all about individual rights, individual access, etc - but we've left out the social accountability piece.
We need the social accountability piece.
Ayn Rand was wrong, folks - society is a system of which we're all a part.  When we work against each other, constantly, ignoring things we don't think matter, problems arise that impact all parts of the whole, like an illness.  The role of government is to serve as brain, responding to the needs of the parts and coordinating operation against them. 
Oh - and when the elected mechanism of government fails to do its job, others step up to fill that space that aren't accountable to the public.  That's how revolutions happen.
It's time the institutions we're meant to rely on step up to the plate.

Mental Health and the Knowledge Economy: Where I'm Going Today and Where We're Headed Tomorrow

Today, the Economic Club of Canada will be discussing the economics of mental health:

There is a growing movement out there (Thanks, Senator Kirby) which recognizes that while mental health has traditionally been the "forgotten orphan" in healthcare funding, it's actually one of the greatest underpinning issues of our time.
Why do people commit suicide?  Why do people bully?  What sparks innovation?  How do we motivate productivity in the Knowledge Economy?  Can an understanding of cognition make marketing (and politicking) more effective?  How do we nurture resilience?  What information do we need to make the best decisions and what's the best way to absorb it? 
These and countless other questions are all tied to how our grey matter interprets and operates in the world.
As it stands, society doesn't do mental health well. 
We have standardized education models that still struggle with differing learning styles - even the end goal of education (A certificate? Knowledge? Critical thinking, entrepreneurialism, occupational flexibility?) is in question.
Workplaces tend to work on the good-behaviour, poor-behaviour model, too; people are resources motivated by carrots and sticks.  It worked throughout the industrial age when widget-making relied on set skills employed quickly, so surely it will work in an environment where communication, big-picture thinking and attention to detail matters - right? 
We're hammering away at today's problems with yesterday's tools and getting mad at people, not the paradigm, for failing to deliver the results we expect.  Why?  The answer to that also lies in our cognitive hard wiring. 
Just as we learned through fits and starts to do physical labour better at the turn of the last century, we are on the brink of a significant social transformation that will fundamentally reshape the way we live and enhance the health and productivity of our cognitive labour, empowering individuals to perform better and leading to a stronger, more sustainable, more entrepreneurial economy.  Pieces of the picture are already emerging through initiatives like the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, Social Emotional Learning, innovative student-centred post-secondary education models and design thinking
It's a vast, complex picture that needs lateral thinkers who can visualize how the pieces fit together.  These are the kinds of folk that don't always do well in traditional models of education and work.  Sometimes we call them "behavioural" or "underperformers"; given the right conditions and supports, they become known as visionaries, leaders, world-changers - outliers.
Here in Canada, we have all the raw material we need to become a global hub for innovation and a Knowledge Economy leader - we won't get there, though, using conservative approaches around science, diversity and accommodation.
To be the best in the emerging economy, we need to start thinking outside the box
Tomorrow's leaders will be the ones who set that example, today.  On the left-hand side of this blog is a list of background reading I'd encourage you to consider.  You'll be surprised and perhaps a bit unerved at what you learn about society and yourself, but don't let that stop you.
After all, knowledge is power.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Food cravings engineered by industry (Kelly Crowe)


Food cravings engineered by industry

How Big Food keeps us eating through a combination of science and marketing

Standing in her kitchen in downtown Toronto chopping vegetables for dinner, Pat Guillet is aware she has entered the battleground.
"Whenever you go grocery shopping, or into your kitchen, you're in a war zone. You have to really be prepared before you go in," she said. She decides, in advance, exactly what she's going to eat, and she forces herself to stick to the plan. Because she knows she is just one sweet mouthful away from a descent back into hell. Pat Guillet is a food addict.
"I ate to the point it hurt to move. And I would just lie in my bed and wish I was dead," she said. She has finally wrestled her addiction under control and now she counsels other food addicts to avoid processed food. "Yeah, just the sight of the packages will trigger cravings," she said.
Craving. It doesn't just happen to food addicts. Most people have experienced the impulse to seek out and consume a favourite packaged snack food. On one billboard, recently put up in Toronto, the intention to make you reach for another one is prominently declared, in large letters that tower over the city street. It's a picture of a box of crackers, and the promise "You'll be back for more."
  • Bliss point
  • Burn
  • Crunch
  • Flavour trail
  • More-ishness
  • Mouth feel
  • Sensory specific satiety
  • Vanishing caloric density
  • GLOSSARY: 8 terms used by the industry when engineering processed foods (iStock)
  • Bliss point: The optimal amount of sweetness added to a product before it tastes too sweet. For instance the sweetness in ketchup or tomato sauce. (iStock)
  • Burn: Low-level pain created by spicy foods such as chili. It produces endorphins and increases pleasure. (iStock)
  • Crunch: Describes the physical force required to bite into food like potato chips and the sound produced by chewing. Crunch affects how fresh food is perceived to be. (iStock)
  • Flavour trail: The sensory "message" (or quickly fading after-taste) that is meant to stimulate the senses and enhance more-ishness. Diet pop drinks are often formulated this way. (iStock)
  • More-ishness: The response that makes a consumer desire more of a product. A food that promotes more-ishness keeps consumers coming back for more, such as reaching for another chocolate chip cookie. (CBC)
  • Mouth feel: Typically associated with fat, this term is used to describe the texture of a food like chocolate and its ability to spread and reach flavour receptors. (iStock)
  • Sensory specific satiety: A flavour or texture that leads the consumer to feel full or lose interest in the product, such as carrots. This is the enemy of more-ishness. (Matthew Mead/Associated Press)
  • Vanishing caloric density: Term associated with foods that quickly melt in the mouth, such as Cheez-Its. This tricks the brain into thinking it has not consumed calories. (CBC)
1 of 9
They know you will be back, because they've done the research necessary to make it happen.
"These companies rely on deep science and pure science to understand how we're attracted to food and how they can make their foods attractive to us," Michael Moss said.
The New York Times investigative reporter spent four years prying open the secrets of the food industry’s scientists.
"This was like a detective story for me, getting inside the companies with thousands of pages of inside documents and getting their scientists and executives to reveal to me the secrets of how they go at this," he said. What he found became the title of his new book, Salt, Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us.
"I was totally surprised," he said. "I spent time with the top scientists at the largest companies in this country and it's amazing how much math and science and regression analysis and energy they put into finding the very perfect amount of salt, sugar and fat in their products that will send us over the moon, and will send their products flying off the shelves and have us buy more, eat more and …make more money for them."
It's not surprising to Bruce Bradley. He's a former food industry executive who spent 15 years working at General Mills, Pillsbury and Nabisco, and ran some common food brands including Honey Nut Cheerios and Hamburger Helper. But one day he discovered he couldn't do it anymore.
"There were certainly times that I felt uncomfortable or troubled by what I was doing," he said. "I think that’s ultimately one of the reasons why I left the industry. As you start to get glimpses of products and you understand better how consumers are using them, and then you see trends like obesity and health issues that are increasing, mainly driven by the food we eat, it was hard for me not to just take a more thorough assessment of what I was doing."
Now he writes a blog, critical of the food industry.
"I decided to step out and ultimately speak out in hopes of bringing more awareness to the issue," he said. "What we eat and drink from a lot of these big food and beverages companies isn't that good for us and we should reconsider it,” he said. "These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They're trying to increase their share of your stomach."
Pat Guillet said it's hard to overcome the addictive appeal of processed foods like ice cream.Pat Guillet said it's hard to overcome the addictive appeal of processed foods like ice cream. (CBC)
A Google search of the patents held by the food industry provides a glimpse of the complex technical engineering that goes into building a simple cracker. Scan the scientific journals, or read the food industry publications and a picture emerges of an army of chemists, physicists and even neuroscientists, all working to make sure you want a second cookie.
And to understand the research, you need to speak the language. There's 'mouth feel,' 'maximum bite force,' and the important concept of 'sensory specific satiety,' the rate at which a food product loses its appeal as it is being eaten.
"That's an expression that says when food has one overriding flavour, if it’s attractive, it will be really attractive to us initially, but then we'll get tired of it really fast," Moss said. "And so these companies make a concerted effort to make their foods not bland, but really well blended."
That's so people don't get too full too fast, and stop eating too soon. "If the taste builds too much, consumption will stop … and snacks need to be eaten non-stop until the packet is finished," Thorton Mustard wrote, back in 2002. He was a food industry consultant who revealed, early on, some of the secrets of the food industry, in a book called The Taste Signature Revealed. He wrote that fullness or satiety, is "quite a serious enemy for a product."
Mustard claimed he could help food companies design foods that were guaranteed to be "more-ish," which he defined as a quality that made a consumer want to eat more. It helped, he advised, if the food was easy to chew.
"If people had to chew the food to extract the flavour enjoyment, it would take longer to eat, be better digested, and the feeling of being full reached far sooner. People would need to consume less," he wrote.
Thornton Mustard has retired and couldn't be reached for comment, but Chris Lukehurst is continuing his work through The Marketing Clinic, the consulting company that Mustard founded.
"So people read that book, and we've been contacted by people saying, can you really do this? Because we’ve got a problem and we think you can solve it," Lukehurst said.
On the art of "more-ishness," Lukehurst explained it this way. "Some products, like most savoury snack products, want to be continually more-ish, so at the end of each product, they want you to reach out for the next product and put it in again, and they often achieve that by having an intense taste at the front of the mouth, and that dies off quickly, and so by the time you’ve finished each mouthful, you're looking to re-taste what you've lost."
Chocolates tend to be round to create a pleasant, melting sensation in the mouth.Chocolates tend to be round to create a pleasant, melting sensation in the mouth. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone/Associated Press)
The crunch is also crucial, Lukehurst said. "It's partly the noise, the noise amplifies, through the jaw bones connected to your ears, and you can hear the crunch quite loudly when you bite. But it's also the physical requirement to chew on something and crunch it. It just distracts you and pours your mind onto what you’re eating."
The importance of "crunch" was confirmed in a study funded by Unilever where the scientists tested whether people's perception of a chip was altered by the sound it made when they bit into it. The researchers concluded that "the potato chips were perceived as being both crisper and fresher when … the overall sound level was increased," indicating another possible way to control the perception of the product, although, the authors wrote, "consumers are often unaware of the influence of such auditory cues."
It also helps if the food dissolves quickly in the mouth, tricking the brain into believing that no calories have been ingested. It's called "vanishing caloric density."
"What happens is that your brain gets fooled into thinking the calories have vanished and you’re much more apt to keep eating before the brain sends you a signal …you've had enough," author Michael Moss said.
The ultimate goal is the bliss point. "The company's researchers have learned to study their products, fiddle with the formulas until they hit that very perfect spot of just enough and not too much sugar to create what they call the bliss point," he said.

Melt-in-the-mouth appeal

Food scientists have even studied the architecture of the mouth. In a paper published in the Journal of Biomechanics, scientists from the Nestlé Research Center examined the "detection mechanisms in the oral cavity," to study how well the mouth could detect the thickness of a plastic disc placed on the tongue. The researchers created a model that would predict the load exerted on the disc when it was deformed by the tongue.
Three years later, Nestlé announced a new chocolate with a shape based on the geometry of the mouth, that hits "certain areas of the oral surface, improving the melt-in-mouth quality while simultaneously reserving enough space in the mouth for the aroma to enrich the sensorial experience," the press release announced.
It's a clue to understanding why chocolates tend to be round. It seems consumers don’t enjoy a piece of chocolate as much if it has sharp edges. "Absolutely, we're looking for chocolate to be comforting, to be a really pleasant, lovely experience in the mouth," Chris Lukehurst said. "Melt is a very soft, soft experience, and if it's got sharp corners, you're really spoiling that and setting the consumer on edge slightly, before they get the melt. Much better if it’s nicely rounded and they’re already comforted and enjoying it first."
And whatever happens on the tongue triggers a response in the brain. That's why neuroscience is the next frontier for the food industry. Francis McGlone was a pioneer when he left academia to work for Unilever, one of the world's largest food companies, back in 1994.
"I think I was the leading edge of something which I think is going to become far more prominent," McGlone said. After more than a decade of industry research, he's back in academia, but he remembers his time in the food industry fondly. "As a basic neuroscientist, I was able to look at the mechanisms that drove preference for various types of food," he said.
What are those drivers of food preference, in McGlone's opinion? His answer sounded familiar. "I am afraid we find high fat, high sugar, high salt foods very appealing," he said.
"Salt, sugar and fat are the three pillars of the processed food industry," Michael Moss said. "And while the industry hates the world 'addiction' more than any other word, the fact of the matter is, their research has shown them that when they hit the very perfect amounts of each of those ingredients … they will have us buy more, eat more."
When Moss began working on his investigation into the science of food processing, he was sceptical of concept of food addiction. "Until I spent some time with the top scientists in the U.S. who say that yes, for some people, the most highly loaded salty, sugary, fatty foods are every bit as addictive as some narcotics," he said.
Francis McGlone made a similar point in a television program for the BBC, when he put a British chef into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, (an fMRI), fed him chili, and took images of his brain, which showed how the burn from the chili peppers triggered the release of endorphins. "The consequence of that low level of pain is that it floods the brain with its own natural opiates, so you can see another way of kicking up a pleasure system," McGlone said.
But many ingredients in processed food have nothing to do with taste. They're there to reproduce a certain texture, to control the moisture level, to keep the various ingredients from separating and spoiling during the months that they will sit on the shelves.
Food companies seek the perfect spot of just enough  sugar to create what they call the bliss point, says author Michael Moss. Food companies seek the perfect spot of just enough sugar to create what they call the bliss point, says author Michael Moss. (Naum Kazhdan via Pulitzer Prize Board/Associated Press/New York Times)
"Absolutely, that's essential to the processed food industry, that their food be able to remain in a warehouse, in shipping, and then in the grocery story for weeks or months at a time," Moss said.
To mask the bitterness or sourness that the formulations can cause, the food industry uses flavour enhancers, invisible ingredients that trick the brain into tasting something that isn’t there, and not tasting something that is there.
"Ingredients like that are kind of bundled under what may seem like relatively innocuous labels like 'natural flavours' or even 'artificial flavours,' when truly they are much more surprising when consumers really understand what it is," Bruce Bradley, the former food industry executive, said. "There's tremendous amounts of money spent behind creating tastes and smells that feel real but in reality are completely artificial."
'These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They're trying to increase their share of your stomach.'— Bruce Bradley
Because without flavour enhancement, no one would eat it. "It would taste horrible, you'd want to spit it out," Bradley said.
Michael Moss was treated to a special taste test, while researching his book. "Kellogg invited me into their R&D department, and prepared for me special versions of their iconic products, without any salt in them at all. And I have to tell you, it was a God-awful experience tasting those things. Normally, I can eat Cheez-Its [crackers] all day long, but the Cheez-Its without the salt? I couldn't even swallow them. They stuck to the roof of my mouth. The real impressive moment was when I turned to the cereal, which, without salt, tasted like metal. One of the miracle things that salt adds to processed foods, it will cover up some of the off notes that are inherent to the food processing systems that they rely on."
Bruce Bradley says all of that processing takes food to a different place. "We're not talking about food actually being real anymore. It's synthetic, completely contrived and created, and there's so many problems about that because our bodies are tricked and when our bodies are tricked repeatedly dramatic things can happen, like weight gain" or endocrine disruption, diabetes and hypertension, he said.
What about the scientists who created these products? Moss says some of them are having second thoughts about their popular creations. "A number of the people I talked to invented these icons really in a more innocent era, when our dependence on processed foods was much less than it is now. And over time, they've come to regret how their inventions have come to be so heavily depended on by us. So yes, any number of these scientists are now looking for ways to help their companies improve the health profile of their products."
Appreciating the power of salt, fat and sugar in snack foods could help people from overdoing it.Appreciating the power of salt, fat and sugar in snack foods could help people from overdoing it. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
Bruce Bradley says he believes food companies are trying to make some changes. " think there's an element of it that’s sincere. I've certainly worked on several products where there was a sincere effort to reduce the amount of sodium or sugar in that product," he said.
But he says there is only so much tinkering that can happen with the three basic building blocks of processed food. "To make these highly processed foods taste great, they require salt and sugar and fat, and so while there may be some very good intentions … it's just not in the cards to get a product that tastes really great."
Chris Lukehurst believes the food industry is making a mistake trying to formulate lower salt, sugar and fat versions of their popular brands while still hoping to match the original taste. Instead he says the food engineers should tinker with the crunch, the mouth feel and other sensory aspects to make consumers like the new versions better, for different reasons.
"What we would argue is don't try to make it taste the same, make it work better for the consumer. So when they're tasting this product, they may well notice a taste difference, but the emotional delivery they’re getting out of it is at least better than it was before," he said. "Let's find what emotions are lacking when you take the fat out. How can we make those emotions up in different ways?"
Today's grocery shelves are filled with the promise of healthier snack foods. Cookies now sport a bright green label, claiming to be a "sensible solution." Chips boast about "the goodness of whole grains," and crackers proudly declare that they've been "baked," not fried.

Pressure on food industry

Bruce Bradley believes the food industry has simply identified a new market opportunity. "These companies are extremely profit-focused, as are all publicly held companies out there. It is a quarter to quarter profit drill," he said. "If the food industry can find a way to market it and make money off of it, I’m sure they will. But if, in the long term, it is decreasing the amount of food that they can sell, I don’t see that as being an avenue that they will go down."
"There's huge and growing pressure on the food companies now, from consumers who are concerned about what they're putting in their mouths," Michael Moss said. "There's equal pressure coming from Wall Street, which is concerned about sales, and there's starting to be increasing attention paid by government regulators. I think you have all three of those converging on the food giants right now, and of course, what will happen remains to be seen."
Meanwhile, Moss has his own food cravings to fight. "I'm a huge fan of potato chips and I can overdo it like the next person," he said. "But what's really helped me is getting inside the companies and understanding how they formulate and perfect their product. I can see where they're coming at me and appreciate the power of the salt, the fat and the sugar in potato chips. And I think that helps me control my indulgence."
For Pat Guillet, back in her kitchen, determinedly chopping celery, there is little hope for relief. "If I had one spoonful of ice cream, I would want the whole tub," she said. "And there were times I ate the whole tub. And I would sit there and say 'I've gotta stop, I've gotta stop,' really feeling completely unable to act on what my brain is telling me."
That's why she is bracing for a lifelong battle with the sugar demons that lurk in the processed food aisle. "These foods are so addictive, so appealing, they give you a high and you feel better," she said. "And the thing many food addicts say is, long after the food causes us joy, long after it causes us misery, we still couldn’t stop. It becomes hard-wired and it's very hard to overcome."
This is the first of two special features by health reporter Kelly Crowe on how industry designs food so that we crave them.

Marketers exploiting secrets of the living brain (Kelly Crowe)

The same primitive impulses that helped early man survive against the evolutionary odds are drawing shopper Denam Drew to a pair of tan suede shoes. At least that's the theory behind neuromarketing, an emerging field that uses the tools of neuroscience to understand the secrets of the consumer brain.
Drew is holding the shoe in his hand while researcher Adam Spadaro stands behind him watching his brain waves light up a computer screen in colourful flares of red, yellow and green. All of this is possible because Drew is wearing an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap with electrodes placed all over his head, recording the electrical impulses on the surface of his brain. He's also wearing eye tracking goggles to reveal exactly what he's looking at when the computer records a flash of emotion.
"The goggles use the pupils as a reference point to track where your eyes are looking and wherever the eyes go, that's a measure of the attention of the brain and that's key information for marketers," Spadaro says. He's completing a PhD in cognitive psychology at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, but at the same time he's using his scientific knowledge to help get one of Canada's first neuromarketing companies off the ground.
"It would be really useful for a brand to know if this product is or is not capturing a consumer's attention," Spadaro says, struggling to balance his laptop computer in the middle of the shoe store and, at the same time, monitor the flashing images of Drew's brain on the screen.
"It's really giving you a lot of insight into his emotional response, much more so than if you were just to ask him how he’s feeling. Sometimes you can get a truer response to his emotion. That offers a lot of insight that neuroscience has been taking advantage of for several decades now and marketers are now beginning to take advantage of it."
Neuromarketer Diana Lucaci adjusts eye tracking goggles on shopper Denam Drew. Lucaci uses new technologies to measure consumers' engagement, attention and memory. ()Neuromarketer Diana Lucaci adjusts eye tracking goggles on shopper Denam Drew. Lucaci uses new technologies to measure consumers' engagement, attention and memory. () (CBC)
Diana Lucaci is also here at this Toronto shopping centre to supervise the research. She is the founder of True Impact Marketing, which she says is the first and only neuromarketing research company in Canada that uses both EEG and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to try to read consumers' minds. Her company owns the EEG cap and eye tracking goggles, but when she wants to use an fMRI machine, she has to buy time from hospitals and universities.
"The three key metrics we measure are engagement, attention, and memory," she says. "We're able to measure levels of positive and negative emotion as well. A company would want to know if its brand elicits a particular emotional response, if it's positive or negative at a particular point in time," she says. "That is invaluable information for marketers because it takes a lot of guess-work out. You're not launching a campaign and crossing your fingers hoping you know what your customers feel and what they want."
"My formal education is in neuroscience from the University of Toronto," she says, "following that, I've worked progressively in roles in marketing and communications."
"As a marketer, I always wanted better tools before we went to market with a campaign. When you know that a campaign requires millions of dollars and putting it together takes months and months, and the only data you have is a survey, and often you don’t even have that, so you just cross your fingers and hope that people pay attention."
Traditional market research has always tried to analyze how consumers think and feel about a product or a brand, using focus groups and surveys. The problem is, sometimes consumers don't tell the truth. "In focus groups, what often happens is that you get people skewing their answer to what they think the marketer wants to hear or what will make them sound better in front of the other participants," Lucaci says.
But what if advertisers could bypass the thinking brain and see what's going on at a more primitive emotional level? The theory is that consumer motivation starts there, with a series of brain chemical triggers rooted in primal neural circuits that evolved to help humans make decisions that would help or hinder survival. Assuming consumer choice is not purely rational, but rather is strongly biased by emotion, neuromarketers believe that if they can read pleasure or disinterest at this unconscious level, they can better predict what consumers will buy or avoid.

How the brain makes consumer choices

One of the few studies to examine the brain activity of consumer choice attempted to answer an old marketing question: why do some people say they like Coke better than Pepsi?
Dr. Reid Montague, at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, scanned the brains of test subjects while they tasted Coke and Pepsi. During the blind taste test, the brain imaging showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was active. "This area of the brain is strongly implicated in signaling basic appetitive aspects of reward," Montague wrote. So when the test subjects didn't know the brand name of the particular sweet, black liquid they were tasting, their brains processed the choice based on taste.
What if advertisers could bypass the thinking brain and see what's going on at a more primitive emotional level?What if advertisers could bypass the thinking brain and see what's going on at a more primitive emotional level?
When Montague asked the subjects which one they liked better, they were equally split between Coke and Pepsi. But when Montague repeated the taste test, this time showing the test subjects a Coke can and telling them they were tasting Coke, suddenly new brain areas got involved: the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus and the midbrain, areas that have been associated with memory and based on emotion.
"There is a dramatic effect of the Coke label on subjects' behavioural preference," Montague wrote in his paper. Once they knew they were drinking coke, the test subjects said they preferred Coke in the labelled cups significantly more than unlabelled Coke and more than Pepsi.
"We hypothesize that cultural information biases preference decisions," he concluded.
Lucaci cites this study as proof that consumer choice is not based on a rational judgment of which product is superior. "So what that tells us is that people regardless of their brain telling them, 'this tastes better,' people have a positive brand association with a product that overpowers the emotion of taste," Lucaci says.

Neuromarketing raises ethical questions

What does Montague think about the emerging field of neuromarketing, after this research?
"Neuromarketing could be a legitimate pursuit especially in areas where one wants to determine how much someone values a product," he said in an email. "In neuroimaging, this is a rapidly developing area — the study of valuation (not neuromarketing per se) — and there are many possible uses. For example, it may be possible to produce neural focus-group approaches to certain aspects of branding, desirability, and so on. Such approaches could in principle be cheaper and more reliable than other focus group methods."
"However, I do not see this kind of approach supplanting anything. A person's purchase behaviour will always be paramount and the brain science will continue to develop."
But are there any ethical issues that should be considered? Could neuromarketing data be used to manipulate consumer behaviour?
People need to be aware of neuromarketing and its ethical implications, said Ruth Lanius.People need to be aware of neuromarketing and its ethical implications, said Ruth Lanius. (CBC)
"Of course you can influence the brain," said Ruth Lanius, a neuroscientist at Western University in London, Ontario, in an interview. "I think it's interesting, how can we influence the brain at an implicit level, to get you more interested in something."
"It's something that definitely has ethical implications that need to be reviewed and discussed, and that people need to be made aware of," she told me.
In an interview, Queen's University behavioural neuroscientist Richard Beninger was asked if he believed the developments in neuroscience could be used to unconsciously influence human behaviour.
"I'm interested to understand how the brain works, that's what’s driven me for decades," he told me. "I find it difficult to say well I’m going to stop doing neuroscience because what we’re going to find is going to be so powerful, we're going to be able to change the course of mankind. As one small scientist with one small lab, it's hard to think that I’m going to have some big impact like you're talking about. But perhaps I have to start thinking about these things."
"We're learning more all the time and with knowledge, comes power, and with knowledge comes the potential to abuse the knowledge," he said.
Back in the shoe store, watching Drew scanning the shelves wearing eye tracking goggles, Lucaci dismisses these concerns.
"It's not any more dangerous than running a survey and asking people what they think and pressing a button to pick what product they like," she said. "This time, though, we’re seeing the reaction without having to ask them anything. It’s a lot cleaner in that regard."
"It's literally impossible to design a super ad that will make people want to buy something they don't want to buy. The brain simply doesn't work like that," she says.
How did Drew feel about people watching his brain while he looked at shoes?
“It's a little weird but it’s not too invasive. I don't have too crazy reactions to shoes," he said, walking through the mall with his head wired up in an EEG cap and still wearing the eye tracking goggles.
All of this is just the beginning of neuromarketing in Canada. So far Lucaci's company has only one client, and she won't reveal the name until later next year when she intends to publish a case study. But the industry is growing. The first Neuromarketing World Forum was held last April in Amsterdam. And the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association says there are now more than 75 companies doing neuromarketing research all over the world.
This is the first in a four part series called Inside Your Brain on CBC's The National, World at Six, and exploring how modern neuroscience is changing the way we think about the way we think. In part two, Kelly Crowe discovers how an ancient system in our living brains can explain our cravings for food, sex and relationships.

Programming Your Brain

The private sector knows how your brain works - and uses that to their advantage.  Political Parties are increasingly getting in on the game, too

If you knew you were being manipulated, wouldn't you want to know how to do something about it?  Wouldn't you want to protect your kids from being manipulated by teaching them how to defend against such violations of the self?

Child Brain Development – Hardware, Software, and Data

These days, a hot topic for parents: teen brain development. Books have been written about it. Nearly every magazine that a parent might read, including National Geographic, has had an article about it. I have written extensively about it.
But in all this writing – even in my own – something basic has remained vague. I’m referring to the phrase, “brain development,” and what is meant by it. If parents are to take all the advice and warnings seriously, they need be clear about what’s going on.
Because there are three types of brain development, and they happen in three different stages of human life. Only one of these stages relates to the teen brain. To make these distinctions, I’ll use the digital computer as an analogy – hardware, software and data.
STAGE #1 – BABY – Building the HARDWARE. The first stage happens while the baby is still in the mother’s womb. For nine months, the growing embryo slowly matures into a human child. Starting with a single cell, after nine months the baby’s brain has segmented itself into the many brain areas and has over 100 billion brain cells. Neither the baby nor the mother gets involved in this construction, except to maintain a healthy, undisturbed environment in the womb – and to be patient.
 At birth, none of these brain cells are wired together yet. The baby has the basic hardware, but neither the software nor the data.
STAGE #2 - CHILD – Programming basic SOFTWARE. In phases throughout early life, the child programs the many areas of his brain. Unlike computer software, which is an off-the-shelf package purchased and downloaded to the computer’s hardware, the child has to build the program himself. He has to wire his own brain. This happens when the child interacts with his world and exercises the basic functions. This activity causes the brain cells to connect into circuits. Not every child gets involved in the same activities, so not every child ends up with the same basic wiring and foundation capacity. The more an area is exercised, the more extensively it is wired. The last area to be wired is the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of judgment and decision-making, i.e., intellect.
STAGE #3 - ADULT – Downloading add-ons and DATA. Once a brain area has its basic programming, a young person is then able to build on these networks by learning skills, knowledge and information. For example, once a child programs his brain for throwing, he can learn to throw a baseball or a football. Once he learns to swing a stick, he can learn to swing a baseball bat, a tennis racquet, or a golf club. He can learn facts and concepts about the sport, which would aid in performance. This capacity for learning – acquiring add-ons and data and using the basic software – continues throughout adult life.
In my writing I frequently refer to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area that is wired for basic functioning during adolescence. I sometimes call this the “smart” part of the brain because it’s involved in executive functions such as analysis, evaluation, decision-making, attention control, and foreseeing consequences. Because no other species has anything close to these capabilities, the PFC is the area that makes us uniquely human. We couldn’t be wise without an extensively developed PFC.
A baby has PFC hardware, but not the the software or the data. So throughout early childhood use of the PFC is minimal until adolescence, when a second massive wave of wiring happens in the PFC.
Then the child has a chance to construct the wiring for using these executive functions – for being “smart.” After adolescence is over, it’s about learning – inputting add-ons and data to be processed by the basic software.
This is why I emphasize the development of “adolescent brain” (the software of the PFC) as a critical turning point in a person’s life. It’s the time when a young person can do the thinking that will cause the PFC to wire itself. The PFC hardware has a chance to get some “smart” software.
But remember, not everyone ends up with the same software. Some young people work hard and end up with extensive wiring. Adults can provide learning opportunities and encouragement, but no one can do the thinking for him. An extensive network of wiring in the PFC is like having the most robust kind of intellectual software, a massive foundation that will accept an endlessly rich array of add-ons and data. In other words, a superior mind.
And of course, a minimally wired PFC will not.

The Most Important Leadership Quality for CEOs? Creativity

Which is a pretty cool notion, when you think about it...

by Austin Carr | Shared from Fast Company

For CEOs, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking, according to a new study by IBM. The study is the largest known sample of one-on-one CEO interviews, with over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries polled on what drives them in managing their companies in today's world.
Fast Company's annual list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business just took on a whole new depth. And this year's list will be revealed later this month.
Steven Tomasco, a manager at IBM Global Business Services, expressed surprise at this key finding, saying that it is "very interesting that coming off the worst economic conditions they'd ever seen, [CEOs] didn't fall back on management discipline, existing best practices, rigor, or operations. In fact, they [did] just the opposite."
About 60% of CEOs polled cited creativity as the most important leadership quality, compared with 52% for integrity and 35% for global thinking. Creative leaders are also more prepared to break with the status quo of industry, enterprise and revenue models, and they are 81% more likely to rate innovation as a "crucial capability."
Other key findings showed a large disparity between views of North American CEOs and those from other territories.
For example, in North America, 65% of CEOs think integrity is a top quality for tomorrow's leaders, whereas only 29-48% of CEOs in other territories view it as such.
Ironically, while company leaders in North America will bring more integrity to the job, they also expect far more regulation than foreign heads -- both presumably reactions to negative public perception and heavy government intervention following the recession. A full 87% anticipate greater government oversight and regulation over the next five years -- only 70% of CEOs in Europe hold this opinion, and 50% and 53% in Japan and China, respectively. Meanwhile, nearly double the amount of CEOs in China view global thinking as a top leadership quality, compared with Europe and North America.
The area of focus the regions can all agree on is customer focus: 88% of all CEOs, and an astounding 95% of standout leaders, believe getting closer to the customer is the top business strategy over the next five years.
IBM will be holding a Web dialogue with experts to discuss the study's findings. You can find a link for the Web cast here, and a schedule as follows:
  • Creative Leaders Webcast - 8am-9am EDT
  • Connected Customers Webcast - 1pm-2pm EDT
  • Dexterous Organizations - 8pm-9pm EDT
What do you think of the findings? Is creativity the most important leadership quality today? Don't forget to sign up for our Most Creative People in Business conference, which is sure to provide excellent insight on the topic. 

Jer's Vision a Great Example of Social Entrepreneurship


There are those who think that the only real solution to bullying is for kids to learn to stand up for themselves, knock the bully in the nose and be done with it.  It's really really hoping that people empower themselves but doing nothing to nurture the process.  Others believe in the corrective carrot method - punishing bad behaviour is the best way to eliminate it.
The same crowd that frowns on thug-hugging tend to be think the entrepreneurial spirit is the best economic engine; all government has to do is get out of the way and reduce impediments to entrepreneurs and they'll emerge on their own, fully-formed and ready to take on the world with their dedication, ideas and salesmanship.
So what happens when the entrepreneurial spirit is embodied by proactive youth who create a world phenomenon with an initiative designed to actively support bullied peers?  That's what Jer's Vision is.  A group of kids were motivated by the loss of a friend, a loss that could have been prevented if someone had reached out a hand or lent a shoulder earlier.  It's a powerful message that resonates, globally.
Its also a youth-driven initiative that uses the power of community to address a problem that targets individuals but has broader, social impact.  Left to their own devices by people who really, really wanted them to succeed on their own, these kids banded together and provided a positive solution that focuses on education, resilience-building and empathy - not punishment.
The children shall lead, indeed - question is, are some adults too set in their ways to follow?

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Value Add Ontario

The Government of Ontario is creating opportunities for youth to share their ideas and develop presentation skills at the same time.
Oh - and they're also empowering every single Ontarian to offer their five cents on the upcoming Ontario budget - share your ideas through or via twitter: @Ongov #budgettalks.  This is significant; by offering a positive outlet, the government is encouraging creative contributions, much as the Rural Roundtable did over the recent leadership race.
On top of this, the LPO has become more inclusive in their tone and opened up things like a major fundraiser dinner to the public.
They're letting people in and engaging them - and bringing the conversation to where the people are. 
Will this approach work?  Let me put it this way - nobody has asked me to promote these opportunities.  I'm doing so because the idea is so cool, I want to take part.
It's amazing how little it takes to get the stone rolling.

Framing the Ballot Question