What's New

Words of Wisdom

52 cards and 15 activities to spark conversations and make sense of learning.
Learn more HERE.


What We Do

The Firefly Group helps people make sense of what they learn and experience.

Whether facilitating a group for better decision-making, keynoting a conference, leading a training, or writing an instructional design, we use novel methods that engage, spark creativity, and produce memorable results.

If this sounds like a good direction for your organization, let's talk about how we might collaborate! Please give me a call (802.257.7247) or send an . - Brian

Your ETR (Estimated Time to Read): 10 minutes
Your ETII (Estimated Time to Implement Ideas):
5 weeks

Read my book
Say It Quick!

November 2015

Say It Quick
a thoughtful message in exactly 99 words

bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today
Digitally Dumber Humans are Underrated

If I Had a Hammer

Talk to Me


Say It Quick

The power of computers is growing ever stronger. Is your job safe? Even if you think you have nothing to worry about, it's time to refine the skills you have that are uniquely human. Learn more by beginning with this story in just 99 words.

Digitally Dumber
My wife has always sent her negatives to a lab for special processing, but this time she decided to try the digital self-service photo machine at Walgreens. She was trying to make a simple adjustment. Rotate the photo 90 degrees from landscape to portrait. But the machine wouldn't do this without cropping the top and bottom of our daughter's portrait leaving a weird slice of her nose and teeth. Even the store employees couldn't help. There simply were too few options on the simplified computer menu.

By dumbing down computers we've actually made them harder to use!



Humans are Underrated:
What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will

By Geoff Colvin

Only a few years ago, every photographer without their own darkroom sent negatives to a lab and waited days to receive what it took my wife minutes to do in the 99-Word Story. Yes, sometimes it's difficult to coax a computer to give the results you want. But the premise driving Geoff Colvin's book, Humans are Underrated, is that computers are able to perform more and more tasks better than people can thus making humans redundant - possibly. Colvin's solution? Capitalize on the abilities that humans will always accomplish better than machines. And he uses the bulk of his book to highlight those uniquely human abilities.

Colvin devotes about a third of his book to the advances of computing power in fields as diverse as engineering, medicine, law, the arts, and psychology. He describes the jobs that computers are able to do faster, better, or safer than humans like predicting the decisions of judges, diagnosing illnesses, cleaning up after a nuclear accident, writing fiction, painting a picture, or even determining a person's emotions.

He also talks about the ways in which technology actually inhibits our most human abilities or causes them to atrophy. In one study, people became unhappy and depressed in direct proportion to the time they spent on Facebook. They did not have a similar reaction with other screen-based activities.

Wired by our biology and our survival instincts, we are naturally inclined to connect with other people face-to-face. Our interpersonal skills, especially our ability to empathize and build relationships, are designed to facilitate social interactions. Meeting another person face-to-face, our brains actually synchronize. That synchronization is much less evident when we stand back-to-back and it's nonexistent on line where physical presence is absent and where gestures, expressions, and verbal signals are limited.

Colvin discusses the advances made in our understanding of good interpersonal interactions and describes how those skills are being refined by the military and, ironically, by our work with computers. In this book you'll find solid advice about how to improve your social skills on an individual level and for working in groups. You'll learn why women have a natural advantage in outdoing computers on interpersonal skills, and you may even be inspired to turn off your devices in favor of face-to-face encounters.

Colvin, Geoff, Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, Portfolio/Penguin, New York © 2015, ISBN: 978-1-59184-72-05.



If I Had a Hammer
In the 99-Word Story, a computer that had been simplified became stupid. In Geoff Colvin's book, more intelligent computers can make us more stupid.

How shall we reconcile these opposing views? Perhaps it really depends on how we use our computers. Like any tool, computers need to be matched to the task and the desired outcome. You could, possibly, use a hammer to attach two pieces of wood with a screw but it would be difficult. And you certainly wouldn't use a hammer to cut that piece of wood or to convince a colleague or your teenager of your point of view!

An important question which Colvin raises in his book is which functions do we really want computers doing? Just because a computer can do something, should it? He points out that we probably will never want computers to make decisions for us. We also won't want them to deliver bad news or invent a creative solution to an evolving problem. These are the things that humans do really well. We are most adept at bringing people together, motivating them, and building relationships that result in teams that are smarter than their individual members.

Unfortunately, some of the uses of on-line technology actually work against our development of these human skills. For example, my own ten minute research about Tinder, a social app that people use to enhance their dating prospects, confirms Colvin's assertion that technology can be a barrier to our most human abilities. A Vanity Fair article titled "Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse" notes that "…millennials brought up on social media are acutely anxious about intimacy. 'We don't know how to talk to each other face-to-face.'"

It's difficult to see how spending more time on line will make them any more adept at interpersonal relationships.

Just as computers are a tool that have their specific uses, our social skills of empathy, listening, innovation, creativity, storytelling, teambuilding, co-creativity, brainstorming, and cultural sensitivity might also be considered tools. Does it make sense to use a social networking app instead of the social networking skills that have been developed over several thousand years of human evolution?

By highlighting what computers do so well, Geoff Colvin's book challenges us to develop and refine what we do well as humans. And that's the value we can add that machines will never match.



Talk to Me
One of the important points of Geoff Colvin's book, Humans are Underrated, is that the interpersonal skills that will stay of high value can be learned and improved. He describes a group of sixth graders who clocked an average of four and a half hours of screen time every day. This group scored low on empathy skills. But with a week in the outdoors and the absence of electronic devices, their empathy abilities improved.

Colvin says that we can improve our empathy and other executive functioning by getting to know another person or working with them to solve a problem. The following activity is designed to give people some of that practice and stretch their empathy muscles. Try it with your team then share your results with other readers.

Talk To Me

Materials: List of Situations, Modes of Communication handout, Pens
Time: 20 minutes
Participants: Any number working in pairs
Generate a list of situations in which two people need to communicate.
Each situation should illustrate in a sentence or a short phrase a problem that needs to be resolved. Make sure there is variety in the degree of seriousness for the situations. Make your own list that is relevant to the group, ask the group to provide situations, or use the list below.

Communication Situations:

Make the Modes of Communication handout. It should have space for a list of situations in the left column and subsequent columns for different modes of communication. SAMPLE:

Modes of Communication



Ask people to sit next to a partner and distribute a Modes of Communication handout to each person.

Post the situations on a flipchart or project them on a screen. Give everyone about three minutes to work individually. Ask them to put a check in the column of the communication mode they would recommend for each situation.

Next, ask people to turn to their partner and compare the communication modes they chose for each situation. Encourage them to have a brief conversation about the assumptions each of them made as they completed their Communication Mode handout.

After seven or eight minutes, lead a discussion with the whole group beginning with some of the questions below.


If you try this activity with your team,, please what happened and what you learned.

You can learn more about Elizabeth Newton's tapping study and the illusion of transparency at the links below.

Harvard Business Review
An excerpt from Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
You Are Not So Smart, blog by David McRaney


If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.

Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.257.7247) or .

-- Brian

Read previous issues. Click Library!
To add or delete your name to our mailing list, email with a short note in the subject line.

I want this newsletter to be practical, succinct, and thoughtful. If you have suggestions about how I can meet these criteria, please let me know! Send me an with your thoughts and ideas.

Home | Services | Products | Mission | Ideas | The Group | The Buzz
(c) 2015 The Firefly Group