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How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact

Summary:
Miles as a young boy, with lion I have always thought of my blog’s target audience as economists who are still curious and open to changing their minds. For economists who meet that test, I am offering a six-week program (on Zoom) to enhance your personal scientific creativity, engagement and impact in economics. This post lays out that offer. Why? I believe that economists, as a group, make a huge difference in the world, and that how economists approach their work matters not only for their success, but for the world. I want to help economists do their work at a higher level.I have a lifelong interest in meta-skills and general-purpose skills

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How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact

Miles as a young boy, with lion

I have always thought of my blog’s target audience as economists who are still curious and open to changing their minds. For economists who meet that test, I am offering a six-week program (on Zoom) to enhance your personal scientific creativity, engagement and impact in economics. This post lays out that offer.

Why? I believe that economists, as a group, make a huge difference in the world, and that how economists approach their work matters not only for their success, but for the world. I want to help economists do their work at a higher level.

I have a lifelong interest in meta-skills and general-purpose skills that can enhance almost any other skill. (I always wanted to be smarter—and reasoned that figuring out general-purpose skills that enhanced many other skills would help.) You can see some of this interest in what I have written about the importance of a dynamic growth mindset for gaining skill at math (see “There's One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel at Math and Those Who Don't” with Noah Smith and “How to Turn Every Child into a 'Math Person’”) and memory (see “The Most Effective Memory Methods are Difficult—and That's Why They Work”).

In 2020, I gained a fuller appreciation for another type of general-purpose skill that can be called “mental fitness.” Without training, our minds are all over the place. And even successful academics typically only have partial command of their own minds. We live far below our potential. Mental fitness is the skill of putting your brain in the optimal brain-state for what you are trying to do.

If you want creativity, engagement and impact, getting to an optimal brain state is crucial. Creativity requires holding the intensely critical side of you at least temporarily at bay so that ultimately promising ideas are not prematurely killed. Engagement—having the work you do flow and feel surprisingly low-effort—requires silencing or at least quieting distracting, self-destructive mind-chatter. Impact requires being in touch with what really matters—both what matters to you and what matters for the world.

I believe most economists went into economics—as opposed to earning more on Wall Street or in the business world—because they wanted to make a positive difference in the world. But the process of getting a PhD, getting a job and getting tenure (or getting to a certain rank in a non-academic job) can narrow down the professional objectives of economists to something like “publishing papers in top journals” or perhaps “surviving the next semester.” Mental fitness can help you get back in touch with the reason you got into economics in the first place rather than the narrow games the sociology of economics pulls you into. And it can even help you in the narrow games of publishing papers in top journals and surviving the next semester.

What? Mental fitness involves developing the skill of noticing what your mind is doing and the skill of getting your mind to go in the direction you want it to go. Done right, “mindfulness” is a synonym of “mental fitness.” I have become very impressed with Shirzad Chamine’s “Positive Intelligence” as an intensive program for learning a diversified set of key mental-fitness skills. It systematizes things I have been trying to do all of my life but only managed to do in part. You could spend years studying different approaches to mindfulness and not learn what you can learn after six weeks of “Positive Intelligence”—six weeks in which you are continuing with your regular life. What is “intensive” about the program is applying the principles and techniques in your life as soon as you learn them. (For more on the Positive Intelligence approach, see my post “On Human Potential.”)

I am one of the few economists in the world (I’d love to hear of others) who has been trained as a Positive Intelligence Coach, in addition to being a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Therefore, I think of training economists in mental fitness using the Positive Intelligence approach as my comparative advantage for service to the discipline of economics.

You can see the webpage for the six-week Positive Intelligence training program here. I’ll put some screenshots of that page at the bottom of this post to pique your curiosity. You can see from this webpage that, commercially, enrolling in this six-week program would cost you $995. Many other Positive Intelligence Coaches who have been trained as I have are charging at least a substantial fraction of that for leading the program.

I am offering Positive Intelligence training to economists without charge as a service to a discipline I love. Using as a metaphor the NSF fellowships we all wish we had gotten (or were grateful that we did) if you qualify, I am offering you a “fellowship” for this training.

One reason I am excited about leading Positive Intelligence training is that since I continue to work full time as an economics professor, I don’t have the time to coach many people one-on-one. By coaching groups of economists through the six-week Positive Intelligence program, I can reach a lot more economists. And for those who, through the Positive Intelligence work, see that they want to try some one-on-one Co-Active Coaching, I am happy to serve as matchmaker. Coaches offer free sample sessions, so it is easy to get a taste of coaching and what it is like with a particular coach. I write about Co-Active Coaching here:

I am pleased to co-lead this program with Bex Bassin (see “Bex's Rules for Life”). Bex, like me, has an outside-the-box approach to life. Bex and I are currently leading the first group of economists through the six-week Positive Intelligence training and it is going great! We are currently taking applications to form our second group.

How? First, you must be an economist—or be the family member of an economist who is going to do the program at the same time. “Being an economist” means having an economics or finance PhD, being in or being admitted to an economics or finance PhD program, or if you are at earlier stage, convincing me that you are destined to get an economics or finance PhD.

Second, you must be committed to do the work:

  • Attending a 1-hour weekly training meeting (on Zoom) of our Positive Intelligence Circle each week during the six-week program (see below for the timing)

  • Doing 15 minutes per day of short exercises using an app for your phone. (These exercises are spread out over the day and can easily fit into your schedule.)

  • Reading the first eight chapters of the book Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine.

  • Watching a 1-hour video by Shirzad Chamine each week.  

  • Sharing your experiences along the way using Positive Intelligence principles with others in your circle.

Third, you need to pass the modest intelligence test of somehow finding one of my two university email addresses in order to send me an email expressing your interest. (I still use my University of Michigan email address as well as my University of Colorado Boulder email address.)

Fourth, each Positive Intelligence Circle is limited to 9—or at most 10—participants at a time. If rationing is required, many considerations will play a role, but other things equal, the sooner you send me an email, the more likely I will be to fit you into the circle. I’ll automatically put you on a waiting list for later circles if there isn’t room, but when you come off the waiting list is entirely at my discretion.

The very next (2d) Positive Intelligence Circle will meet at 5 PM Eastern time for the six Tuesdays beginning October 20th, ending on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. (Be sure to think this through converting Eastern time into your local time, and realizing that for the US, Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, November 1.) If that time doesn’t work for you, give me a detailed indication of what times in the week would work for you and in the aggregate I’ll take that information into account in scheduling the 3d Positive Intelligence Circle that will begin after Thanksgiving.

There is one delicate matter I have thought through. To keep my load manageable, I feel I need to set a rule that unless I have another preexisting connection with you, I won’t write a recommendation for you or otherwise do an official evaluation of you simply because you have done the Positive Intelligence work with me. However, if you complete the program, I can provide you with a pdf file in the form of a letter on letterhead describing this Positive Intelligence training and saying that you completed it. Other than altering it, you can then do anything you want with that.

Final Thoughts: I led with the benefits of having command over your own mind for productivity (“creativity, engagement and impact”). But being at choice about your brain state has in many ways even bigger benefits for your happiness and for your relationships. When I did the same six-week Positive Intelligence training, I estimated that the amount of time I felt unhappy was cut to a third of what it was. The reason I am including family members (including anyone you live with and a significant other in a long-distance relationship) in this offer is that I have seen the good this Positive Intelligence training can do for relationships. It will help your relationships even if only you learn these skills, but obviously it is even more powerful if both people in a relationship learn the skills. If you are old enough to have a child or children 15 or older (or you convince me you have a kid who is especially mature), your children are also included in this offer. But you, the economist, need to be doing it at the same time as a family member; you can’t just send them off to do it!

The picture of me with the lion at the top of this post is shorthand for the kind of sage-like, full-of-possibility brain state that can be at your beck and call. I had many unhappy moments in my childhood, but this was a good one. Good moments can be endogenous for you—at your command.

How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact
How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact
How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact
How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact
How Economists Can Enhance Their Scientific Creativity, Engagement and Impact
Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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