We Misunderstand Sensitivity and Emotion

When a person is called “sensitive” very often that person has incredibly high pattern recognition. They can compute many environmental variables faster than their peers. They take that information and process it. If they see a threatening outcome, they express it as angst. It is the LOGICAL result of the computation, not what we commonly refer to as emotional. The expressed emotion is merely shorthand to convey the conclusion.

Similarly, emotions are other expressions of these pattern computations. Anger tells you to stop and see what combination of environmental variables are causing you to feel threatened. Fear is telling you to stop and look at the combination of factors you’re observing and consider what you think is the worst-case-scenario. Attaching a little probability to that will likely reduce the fear.

In entrepreneurship we don’t value these qualities enough. We say you “can’t be too emotional.”

I would argue that we need to be teaching: “Learn to read your emotions and interpret the data” just as much as we might teach our children how to read a statistical graph like a histogram.

I would also postulate that this is what underlies much of the mathematical, incremental benefit to teams that involve women. Women are good at reading patterns (we often refer to this with the soft term interpersonal relations). What they are in fact doing is bring ADDITIONAL DATA to the table. As such, of course the computational outcome is different.

Drop the word nerd

I know. We call ourselves and our friends geeks and nerds. We use it lovingly. The thing is, I think there is a time in a child’s life (and perhaps even an adult male’s life) when that word is actually disempowering and I don’t think that’s so cool. I have decided to start a personal campaign to encourage other mothers to speak out against the word nerd. I was watching the film on Aaron Swartz last night and was really struck by the clip of Jon Stewart saying: “I believe the word you’re searching for is EXPERT” in response to people in Congress calling young computer scientists, hackers, NERDS.

Ironically when these young boys grow older they are the ones speaking up and asking, “Hey why aren’t there more women in technology?!” They have a strong sense of justice despite very likely having been treated with great injustice throughout their lives.

I am looking at making a t-shirt that reads:
“I wouldn’t call your daughter a slut for wearing a short skirt. Calling a little boy a nerd, for any reason, is just as offensive.”

I hope one day we live in a world where the extent of what our children associate with this word is the candy and that they give it to eachother in love.

If you haven’t seen “The Internet’s Own Boy”, go see it. If you’re not moved to tears, you might want to question your own sense of justice. I cannot imagine this mother’s agony to lose a beautiful, sensitive boy like Aaron. The Internet echoed her primordial scream.

Strong Mothers, Strong Sons

I read a wonderful book entitled “Strong Mothers, Strong Sons” years ago when I was pregnant. The basic message of the book is that rather than trying to dam the incredible energy of your son, you should see it as a river rushing down the mountainside and help it find an outlet. It gave the example of Winston Churchill getting kicked out of school and having intense energy and his mother taking him to observe Parliament at a young age to help form that young mind.

In Defense of Our Children

Our kids are facing a world that through interconnected information represents a volume of information our generation never encountered. I believe they are evolving to process more information, more efficiently. The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) often hurled at them as a criticism and the ADD (attention deficit disorder) often assigned to them is missing the positive side of their evolution. (I say that with no intention of belittling true ADD; I know that is a very serious concern for many children.) I think the broad label of “inability to focus” we assign to our children is using old learning methodologies to judge young minds that have moved on to adapt to the world into which they have been born. Their desire to process lots of information quickly is entirely appropriate.


The art space in Denver, RedLine, is devoting 2015 art exhibitions to play. At the gathering to announce programming, the head of the Children’s Museum and the Bonfils Stanton Foundation spoke of the importance of play in our cognitive development as well as in the design of our public spaces.

I was thinking about my boys and Minecraft. The free play environment isn’t a neat continuum from start to end. It’s like digital Legos, free play without a directed end. I watched 5-year-old Lucas on the plane flying through Minecraft. I was excited to think of how his brain is being wired. I remember my parents looking at me with loving admiration when they said the same thing of us.

Are You a High Jumper Dog?

When I worked in AT&T Global business, my colleague Phyllis, a very gifted writer and kind person, said to me: “You are a high jumper dog. I know that behavior. I see it all the time with my dogs.” I knew Phyllis raised Alaskan Malamutes and entered them in competitions. She explained that she always had one dog that would curl up in the corner, sullen and quiet, until the bar was raised high enough. Once that bar was raised high, the dog would jump the highest. Until the bar was high, the dog just sat there.

It is one of the most insightful things anyone has ever said to me.   It is profoundly true. If I’m not interested, I just don’t perform. I am sure this is true for most people. For me, it runs deep. Though I try to control it and be competent at most things I try, the reality is you can see an enormous difference in those things I am truly passionate about. I use that insight all the time to evaluate whether I should work on something: does it ignite genuine passion in me? Game on.



The researcher, Johnson O’Connor, studied aptitudes as a way of measuring intelligence as opposed to “IQ.” Interestingly, I was reflecting today that this notion seems to underlie much of gifted education.

In the book “The Unique Individual”, he wrote of “ideaphoria.” We all know the story of the absent-minded professor who crosses the street without looking. I would venture to say that person had ideaphoria.

For me, the most moving anecdote in the book is the story of the teacher who has extremely high ideaphoria and frustration as a result. O’Connor offers advice at the end:

“Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown. A fourth-grade teacher came with a feeling of inferiority which had twice driven her to seek psychiatric help. Every afternoon by three-thirty, when school closed, she was exhausted by refractory disciplinary problems. In personality she scored probably objective, but only three significant responses away from the extremely subjective division. As worksample 35 is inaccurate to this extent, the Laboratory considers it wiser for her to assume herself extremely subjective.

In ideaphoria she scored at the 100th percentile, 460 words written in ten minutes where 341 is grade A for women. She wanted to write, but whenever she tried her vivid imagination raced ahead at a speed which her pencil could never equal, and she grew discouraged and gave up.

She then thought of editing a collection of children’s stories. This gave the counterfeit satisfaction of having produced something without the long laborious hours demanded by actual creation. But secure editors score highest int he reasoning work-samples, analytical reasoning, worksample 244, and inductive reasoning, worksample 164, in both of which she scored low. Also editors score lower in ideaphoria, where she ranks at the 100th percentile. Continued editorial work would give her little permanent enjoyment.

College teaching involves fewer disciplinary problems but demands more inductive reasoning than the grades. A change from public to private school seemed likely to give a congenial atmosphere for her subjectivity. But the only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 84-85)

Interestingly, below are the traits O’Connor associated with a writer (p. 81):



For more info:

O’Connor, Johnson. The Unique Individual. Human Engineering Laboratory Incorporated, Boston: 1948.

The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in New York works to advance the research of Johnson O’Connor.


Learning from our Cultural Differences

There is no question that my mind works vastly differently than my husband, Kurt’s. I try to learn from him every day, and over time we have learned to divide our labor according to our natural skills.

He is a German computer programmer descended from inventors and tinkerers. I am a Cuban/Spanish art & technology entrepreneur descended from farmers, scientists, business people and teachers. I often wonder if we were attracted to each other because our skills are so complementary: are we biologically trying to produce something better than ourselves?

Kurt’s grandfather was an inventor who worked at Bosch on technologies that would later contribute to voice recognition technologies. Kurt’s mother, Renate, has early memories of smuggling parts in her pockets from her father’s laboratory across the Berlin Wall checkpoints as her family still lived in the East. Kurt’s father, Ron, was an extremely prolific photographer who photographed art all over the world.

Our pediatrician said to me a few years ago: “I am so glad the computer programmer married the art gallerist.” She was referring to the vast difference in the way Kurt’s mind works from the way my mind works, and that together our children would be able to utilize their brains in nearly opposite ways at the same time. I hope so.

The Difficulty of Innovating

It’s difficult to imagine New York without Central Park, the lungs of the city and the space you can retreat to in the urban jungle. Yet that took vision and foresight in a time when urban planning and public spaces weren’t as valued as they are today.

The Denver architect David Tryba recommended the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted by Rybczynski ,  “A Clearing in the Distance”, to me. It’s a good read to think about urban spaces, public spaces, framing the community dialogue and the importance of innovating.

The most interesting passage to me was that in which Rybczynski describes the difficulty of being yourself, of innovating before something is widely understood in society:

“Olmsted was an organizer when organization was considered a symptom of “monomania,” and a long-range planner in a period that thought of planning as “mysterious.” He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country’s first regional plans. Above all, he was an artist who chose to work in a medium that then– even more than now– lacked public recognition. He was an innovator and pioneer largely by chance. But, as Louis Pasteur, an exact contemporary of Olmsted, once observed, ‘Chance favors only the mind that is prepared.’ Olmsted’s preparation was not based on formal training or education. What laid the groundwork for his later achievements was an amalgam of sensibility and temperament, coupled with an unusual set of formative experiences.”
(page 23, Chapter Two)


Enjoying Ideaphoria

It’s probably pretty safe to say many entrepreneurs have what Johnson O’Connor calls “Ideaphoria.” Ideaphoria demands modifying your behavior to feel joy. Here are some things I learned the hard way.

Flesh Out the Ideas
O’Connor wrote: “Although ideaphoria is the top trait of teachers, when too high and combined with extreme subjectivity it leads to a feeling of frustration which not only stops actual progress but may lead to a nervous breakdown.” (p. 84) He recommends: “The only enduring solution hopeful of lasting satisfaction is actual creative work. She should force herself to write a regular two hours each day, devoting ten minutes of this period to scribbling at top speed exactly as in the creative-imagination test. Instead of throwing away these crude outpourings, like most high creative people, with nothing to show for her efforts, she should bind them carefully in some sort of loose-leaf book, where they will not be lost, and then each day spend the balance of her writing time amending them phrase by phrase, word by word.” (p. 85)

Stay away from people who don’t get it
This is easier said than done because most people don’t get it. However, you can calibrate how you internalize what others say. It starts when you are a child and you hear this:
“stop asking so many questions”
“you think too much”
“you’re too deep”
“that’s complicated”
As you get older you start to recognize the response and it takes this form:
“wow, you really have a lot of different interests”
“did you invent a new business today?”
“that’s too ambitious”

The gifted education curriculum takes this into account. Many kids who have a strong ability in one area (a “giftedness”) are often teased in public schools, bullied into “toning it down.” Whereas in a curriculum that understands and supports these strong aptitudes, kids are encouraged to run with it. My son, for example, is doing algebraic expressions in 5th grade that I didn’t encounter until 9th grade. That is because he is in “pull out math” and allowed to progress at his own pace at his school.

Don’t Chastise Yourself or Try to “Fix” It
When I was 18, I bought this book called “Help for Women Who Do Too Much.” Kurt hilariously pointed out that there are likely no books entitled Help for Men Who Do Too Much.” I realize now that this was me trying to “fix it” instead of understanding my ability to generate ideas.

When your thoughts are too scattered
Do something manual. For me it is cleaning or playing tennis first thing in the morning. Rollerblading in Central Park also had that mind calming effect on me. Cleaning is something I’ve done as a coping mechanism since I was a child. It gives me immediate control over a messy situation and I have instant gratification in seeing it resolved. It’s like the more complex the problem, the more my mind is working on it, and can’t reach a conclusion. So instead I try to clean up my environment. I find the process of doing that helps organize my thoughts too.

Don’t Let Others Question Your Work Methods
When I was under lots of stress and would start cleaning, Kurt would say, “What are you doing?! Why are you spending time on that? Get to work; you have so much to do!” I know he meant well, and in his more aware-of-the-clock biology, it makes sense. However, for me, the cleaning wasn’t a distraction, it was in fact a fundamental part of my work process.