Customer Service Surveys and Nazis

I’ve just finished reading the book Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre. It is the true story of  Eddie Chapman, one of the most fascinating and effective double agents working for Britain during WWII. Chapman, a career criminal, was the only wartime agent pardoned for his crimes by the British. The Nazis so valued his efforts during the war that they awarded him the Iron Cross.

Eddie Chapman was clearly talented when it came to telling stories and charming friends, romantic interests, and his spymasters. Yet there were times when his deception should have been flagged and investigated more carefully by the Germans. One reason this wasn’t done lies in what the book calls “the central defining flaw of the German secret service.”

The Germans tied the fortunes of the spymaster to his spy. Dependent on each other and competing with other German spies and spymasters, there was great pressure to provide information about the Allies. Chapman’s Nazi controller needed to believe the misinformation Chapman was feeding him. Having a productive spy increased his monitory rewards and kept him away from the Eastern Front.

In contrast, within the British secret services, spy case officers shared responsibility for multiple spies. The British knew that if a spymaster’s self-interest was tied to his agent, he would not see that agent clearly and that might compromise the spymaster’s personal integrity.

This problem with tying individual rewards and punishments closely to the performance or satisfaction of a third-party is something we still see today in businesses, government agencies, the news media, and public schools. One of the most annoying manifestations of this type of warped reward dynamic are in the ubiquitous customer service satisfaction surveys. Too many companies have clumsily tied some aspect of compensation of front-line employees to the results of customer satisfaction surveys. This results in front-line sales and customer service employees coaching customers to always “give a 5-out-of-5.” From car dealerships to carpet cleaners they repeat the mantra that if the customer isn’t completely satisfied and isn’t able to give a 5-out-of-5 (or a 10-out-of-10), the customer should immediately tell them and they will fix the problem *before* the customer fills out the survey. This creates an environment where senior management is kept in the dark. Hidden are possible systematic issues that would be obvious if customers filled out surveys without influence. Any problems are either fixed with a series of one-of solutions by the front-line workers or are swept under the rug because the front-line workers have pressured customers to only give perfect scores in the surveys. A perfect score on a customer satisfaction survey is basically worthless to the company who is trying to improve.

Throughout business, when managers run their departments with little outside input or objective analysis, misinformation is bound to creep into reports. In schools, the pay-for-performance movement and the penalties imposed by No Child Left Behind created an environment that encouraged standardized-test cheating scandals.

Of course, as the Nazi’s found out, glowing reports that fail to mention the negative, will eventually catch up with you. If you are a business, perfect customer surveys will not stop your customers from finding other venders when they are truly unhappy. In the schools, kids who are below grade level will eventually feel the negative effects of that, regardless of their impressively doctored test scores. In order to get quality information, we must be much more careful about introducing self-interest variables into our search for the truth.

Twin Cities Startup Week — Let the ideas, coffee & beer flow

Twin Cities Startup Week (#TCSW) begins tomorrow, Tuesday, September 9th. From the Beta.MN kick-off party tomorrow evening through to the Startup Weekend demos presented Sunday evening, this is a week to learn about and celebrate entrepreneurship in Minnesota.

Google for Entrepreneurs sponsors Startup Weekends around the world. They are intense 54-hour weekends where developers, designers, marketers, business people, and people with non-technical backgrounds come together and create compelling startup business demos. Billed as “the world’s starting point for entrepreneurship” they give budding entrepreneurs opportunities to pitch and develop their ideas. After a day and a half of intense work, Sunday evening the teams present their demos hoping to win significant prizes that will take their idea to the next level.

Here in the Twin Cities, the startup community has expanded the idea of Startup Weekend to an entire week of networking and information events for companies and individuals interesting in what is happening in local tech. I few of the events I’m looking forward to include MinneDemo18, the Twin Cities Startup Crawl, and Women in Entrepreneurship.

One More Reason to Send Kids to Traditional Summer Camp

Summer camp enrollment season is gearing up and the choices run the gamut from music to technology to traditional. Those who are able to ship their kids off for a week or more during the summer may want to maximize their investment by choosing a camp with an intellectual component. Yet there is hidden value in the easy-going routine of traditional camp.

Choices bombard adults these days. From what to wear, to what to eat, what to buy and how to spend our time, we spend a huge amount of mental and emotional energy trying to make the right choices every hour of every day. In our quest to respect our children’s individuality and help them follow their hearts, we have extended the superabundance of choices to our children. Day in and day out they make decisions that affect not only their direct lives but those of their parents. We give them the power to choose or at least strongly influence everything from what the family will have for dinner to where they will go for vacation. At a certain point, as pointed out by Barry Schwartz in, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, all this freedom can become stressful and negatively impact quality of life. The pressure to make the right decision can detract from the joy of being able to choose. The plethora of choices we face on a daily basis can cause us to feel stressed, dissatisfied, and anxious.

This is where traditional camps come in. Traditional camps can give kids a break from the strain of daily choices. Summer camps have a nice routine and a decided lack of choices. Clothing choices are limited to what was packed before they left for camp. Meals are at very specific times and frequently filled with structure and tradition. Food choices are all but non-existent. While campers can choose whether they will eat, the kitchen doesn’t give them the option of choosing dishes they may like better. Crafts, swim times, and campfires unfold on a schedule designed to accommodate different ages and cabin groups and there it little burden of choice on individual campers. Add to this the fact that most traditional camps ban electronics and old-fashioned camps become one of the few places modern kids can experience true mental calmness.

When considering camp options this summer remember that more is not always better. Take a good look at camps with fewer activity choices, especially those in rustic, natural settings. These traditional camps may offer the best experience for kids that, whether they realize it or not, need a break for their stressful, choice-filled worlds.

Parenting for the Zombie Apocalypse

School is cancelled for the third time this trimester due to extreme cold. Today’s bonus time with the kids has given me an opportunity to reflect on how my parenting philosophy and style has evolved over the last decade. When the kids were little, I sweated the small stuff. I wanted to make sure they felt special and were on time, prepared, and neatly dressed for the carefully selected enrichment activities that filled our weeks.

Now, I’m just focused on trying to prepare them for the upcoming zombie apocalypse or adulthood. Whichever comes first, I figure we are covered either way. To that end, I’m trying to impart in them self-sufficiency, resilience, and guile. As we go through our days, weeks, and years, I am trying to mentally move beyond the day-to-day and as challenges arise, figure out what they can learn from the challenge that will help them to ultimately survive the zombie apocalypse (the ZA), or again, thrive in adulthood.

To that end, here are some parenting guidelines:

  • Acknowledge and appreciate birthdays, don’t try to make them special. In the upcoming ZA, no one is going to have the time or resources to give them an amazing birthday celebration every year. They will be happier in the long run if they don’t expect to be wow’d on their birthday.
  • Authority and rules matter. If you are going to break them, consider it carefully and be prepared to take the heat and defend your actions. Chain of command, expectations, and rules will keep their group alive during the ZA (or again, in the work world). Any deviation from these must be carefully weighed because there will be consequences. During the ZA, helicopter parenting will not save them from their poor choices.
  • Everyone needs to understand nutrition, be able to politely eat food they hate, and be able to cook. Our kitchen is not a restaurant. If they don’t like what is for dinner, they are to keep it to themselves. I gave them cookbooks for Christmas, if they want to eat food they like, they should learn to cook. Who know what food will be available during the ZA or if they might need to impress a boss or international client over some kind of disgusting meal. Being able to eat food you hate without visibly gagging is a life skill.
  • Everyone does their own laundry. Don’t have clothes you need for school or the presentation? Too bad, you know how those machines work. This is the easy to teach, just stop doing their laundry and watch them rise to the challenge. Again, a life skill that granted, will probably be more important if the ZA does not actually come to pass.
  • Learn how to fail. Today’s parents frequently skip over teaching the kids how to fail. They instead focus on preventing failures or rescuing kids from their failures. Many kids never learn how to fail. They need to know how to handle a failure, work through it, learn lessons from it, and move on. Kids need experience with failure and how to survive it to know they are capable of handling the inevitable setbacks during the ZA, and/or adulthood.
  • Friends matter. Taking the time to make and nurture good friendships is as important as doing well in school. When you are MaGyvering the creative attack on the zombie’s stronghold, you will need your friends to watch your back. Friends are also essential for celebrating life’s victories and mourning life’s loses. Being there for a friend is one of the great joys in life.

Know that the assignment due tomorrow that hasn’t been started, the messed up piece during the recital, the “A” in science, and the “F” in history are not important. What is important is what is learned from those successes and challenges. Learning to make the most of opportunities presented, make your own opportunities, and move forward, even in the face of failure, is what matters. Successes and disappointments all create emotional, intellectual, and physical responses. When parenting for the zombie apocalypse, take the long-range view that you are shaping responses, building habits which will guide them in the future. Today doesn’t matter.

Oh and fire, everyone should know how to build a fire.

10 Things Ender’s Game Teaches Us About Kids & Education

We went to Ender’s Game over the weekend and during the movie I couldn’t help thinking about how Ender’s Battle School compares to public education in the US. Examinations of morality aside, governments in Ender’s Game made a strategic decision that the survival of the human race depended on gifted children with a superior and specific education. They then heavily invested in a school and a program designed to find and maximize the potential of these children.

Here are 10 lessons about kids and education we can learn from Ender’s Game:

  1. Don’t get bogged down in trying to fully acknowledge that all students are gifted in their own way. Instead, make some hard calls as to what skills and talents will be needed most in the future and pour resources into those areas and those students. Our lack of funding better math and science programs, especially in elementary school and middle school, is appalling.
  2. Start young. Young minds can absorb a great deal of information and we should be giving young kids complex information about all subjects, not dumbing things down to what we think they can handle.
  3. Let kids work at their own pace and accelerate them as they show ability and potential.
  4. Allow kids to fail, to feel the disappointment, and to learn from those failures.
  5. Kids are resilient yet still need someone to confide in, support them, and push them in order for them to fully reach their potential.
  6. Do not underestimate the importance of hardships, including negative social interactions, in shaping determination and character. However, as kids are left alone to work things out themselves, adults should watch from a distance and be ready to step in to prevent irreparable harm.
  7. Book learning isn’t enough. Students must be able to create, build, and interact with things in real life in order to fully internalize and cement learning. We need to increase funding for hands-on classes in science, programming, design, and industrial arts.
  8. Interactive computer games are a powerful tool that cannot be ignored. Advice to limit students’ screen time is antiquated. We should be far more concerned with positive and negative modes of thinking and brain pathways that are reinforced through these games. Instead of merely entertaining, games should be designed to strengthen growing brains in positive ways.
  9. Students that challenge the authority of teachers should not be automatically punished. The defiant student may be an innovative genius in the rough.
  10. If we want superior schools, we need to make a serious investment in them. Educational spending needs to be increased.

The Book on Autism & Education You Need to Read

Temple Grandin’s new book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, is a must read for educators, parents, and anyone concerned about how our society is dealing with the huge increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses. Published this spring it incorporates current research and thinking about autism.

Throughout her life, Temple Grandin has seen and lived through our changing ideas on autism and how to treat those afflicted with it. The medical profession still does not fully have a handle on it as evidenced by the newest version of the Diagnosis Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association which redefines what it means have ASD yet again. This controversial change will in all likelihood, reduce the number of children with clinical diagnoses and may limit their ability to get services.

The book combines extensive information on autistic brains with a plea to the parents and educators of kids with ASD to stop defining them by their disability. A few items that really stood out to me:

  • Based of current neural research, what a neurotypical person feels when someone won’t make eye contact is what a person with autism feels when others do make eye contact and visa versa. Kinda gives a whole new perspective on why kids with ASD don’t like to look you in the eye.
  • Through ever more sophisticated brain scans of younger and younger children, scientists seem to be on the verge of knowing how autistic brains develop differently. Geneticists are also picking apart how different mutations and their combinations may contribute to autism. This is going to be an exciting area to watch over the next 10 years.
  • Historically, we have defined and treated autism by what it looks like from the outside rather than what it feels like on the inside. The result of this is that parents, educators, and the medical profession have downplayed the importance of sensitivities. What if the autistic behavior that we are trying so hard to change is actually a perfectly normal and rational response to how the autistic brain amplifies and processes what neurotypicals experience as benign stimuli? If this is indeed the case, modifying the exterior environment might be the most effective way to change undesirable autistic behavior. As an aside, since many gifted people have sensitivities, Ms. Grandin’s advice on how to deal with them may also be helpful for the gifted community.
  • There are probably 3 types of thinkers and these types manifest themselves differently in neurotypical and ASD brains:
    • Visual Object Thinkers: people who think in pictures.

Picture thinkers like hands-on painting, cooking, and woodworking type activities and they are being horribly let down by our schools as curriculum changes emphasize reading and writing at the expense of classes like drafting and shop.

    • Visual Spacial Thinkers: people who think in patterns.

Pattern thinkers think about the way things fit together and can picture objects in their minds and imagine manipulating them in space. these people are frequently musicians and mathematicians. They may be behind in reading but way ahead in math. Schools must allow them to work ahead in math to improve their school success and confidence.

    • Verbal Thinkers: people who think in words and facts.

Verbal thinkers are easy to spot and, except in math, may have a big advantage in our reading and writing oriented public school system.

  • Talent + 10,000 hours of work = Success

It is vitally important that we start defining kids by their strengths instead of their disabilities. Ms. Grandin laments the fact that the current generation of kids diagnosed with ASD are too quick to talk about their limitations. Sadly she feels that today’s gifted kids on the autism spectrum will not reach the same career heights as the Silicon Valley innovators. This is because we have diagnosed them with a disability and then let that disability define them instead of discovering, calling attention to, and nurturing their strengths.

Temple Grandin’s job advice for kids on the spectrum:

  1. Don’t make excuses
  2. Play well with others
  3. Manage your emotions
  4. Mind your manners
  5. Sell your work, not yourself
  6. Use mentors

Our society greatly benefits when people with complementary ways of thinking design our products and systems. Autistic minds have strengths not seen in neurotypical minds and the collaboration between different types of thinkers creates an end product that is greater than what any one type of brain can imagine.

Forget Potential, Nurture Passions

Today as Twitter goes public, it seems right to take a step back and reflect on how a company like Twitter reaches this level. Despite their lack of profits, they are the most anticipated IPO since Facebook began trading last year.

Many companies have great potential, yet only a few become common household names with worldwide recognition. While luck and timing undoubtably play a role, perhaps a more important factor is passion. Having a vision, believing in your ideas, and feeling strongly enough about your goal that you are willing to put in the time and effort to work through setbacks and adversity, is a necessary component for achieving great success.

Too often in business we focus on the bottom line and the day-to-day. While mission statements try to define a purpose, they cannot by themselves create a zealousness for putting in the extra effort needed to take a company to the next level. That type of energy bordering on fanaticism must come from within. People put time and energy into their passions in a way that is unsustainable in an ordinary job. Frequently this enthusiastic effort doesn’t even feel like work.

Our country and our economy needs passionate entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators. We need our best and our brightest to discover what fascinates them and run with it. Too often though our educational system does just the opposite. In gifted education and literature we focus on making sure students are meeting their potential. We design gifted services to provide identified students a chance to work at a higher level in adult-defined academic subjects. We expect our gifted students to excel in math, reading, and science and we teach them and test them to ensure they are living up to their potential.

Yet, ability and potential does not automatically equate to success in the business world. Yes, being smart can help you pick up on new concepts, but gumption, knowledge, and experience are far more important over the long haul. Instead of merely worrying about whether students’ grades and test scores properly reflect their IQ tests, we should support their unique interests. Instead of just signing them up for yet another enrichment class, we should take the time to listen to what is important to them and find opportunities for them to pour energy and effort into what moves them.

If we want to create enthusiastic innovators, we need to stop worrying so much about whether gifted students are working to their potential and instead help them discover and nurture passions.

 

5 Rules for Asking Engineers Questions

The other day I was listening to an interview with a project management specialist on how to handle different personalities on project teams. While most of what she said seemed helpful, when it came to working with engineers and IT admin types, she went off on a huge tangent on how “those people” had ego issues. She seemed to think they purposely were difficult and slowed projects down because they needed to feel important. She expressed that when engineers are reluctant to commit to a timetable and/or are reticent about giving details on how far they are through a particular phase of a project, it is because they want to feel important.

She couldn’t be more wrong. Very few engineers are the ego maniacs she describes and even those that are can be very easy to work with. Non-engineers just need to understand projects from the perspective of the engineers.

Engineers know that computers and software are not 100% predictable and reliable. They plan for the unexpected and build redundancies into systems where possible, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been burned. The more experience an engineer has, the more likely it is that he or she has spent hours or days recovering data and/or rebuilding a system that never should have gone down. The more familiar an admin is with different hardware and operating systems, the more likely he or she is to have a strong opinion on what will work. Yet, because sometime it just doesn’t, the more reluctant that admin may be to give a direct answer on what should be chosen and how long it will take to deploy. They have all seen “simple” installs and upgrades that did not perform as advertised. The last thing they want is for someone who does not understand the subtleties of their craft to hold them to expectations and deadlines that may turn out to be unrealistic.

You can start to improve your ability to work with engineers just by following some simple rules for asking questions.

Rule 1: Whenever possible, ask questions in person. This will allow you to see if the engineer is deep in thought coding or troubleshooting. Don’t just start talking, wait a minute or two until they finish typing or reading and turn to you with their full attention. Some of the biggest misunderstandings happen when questions are not fully heard.

Rule 2: If you can’t ask your question in person, ask it through email, not in a phone call. For the reasons listed above, if you just call an engineer and start talking, there is a good chance he or she will miss the first chunk of the conversation. This is especially true if they are actively troubleshooting an urgent problem. You will only have half their attention and it is unlikely the answer they give you will include all the details you need.

Rule 3: Whether you ask the question in person or in email, summarize their answer in an email confirmation just to make sure you understood their answer and you are both on the same page.

Rule 4: Semantics matter. Engineers tend to approach things as black/white, on/off, zero/one. This helps them greatly when working with code and computers and is something you need to keep in mind when asking them questions. To a non-engineering mind, the following questions may appear the same, but to an engineer are very different.

Can you do X?
Can we (as a company) do X?
Can anyone we have on staff do X?
Is it easy to find someone who can do X?
Should we do X?
Does doing X follow best acceptable practices?
Will doing X take so much time that it isn’t worth it?
Have we done X before?  Were the circumstances the same?  What were the benefits and drawbacks of doing X?

Rule 5: Whenever possible, questions should initially be phrased in term of the functionality you would like to see instead of an exact method of achieving that functionality.

Ask: What is the best way to set this up with a CMS so the customer can directly update their site?

Instead of: Can you put the XYZ content management system on their server?

Generally, engineers, especially introverted engineers, will answer the exact question asked. They will not necessarily volunteer all the additional information you may need. By following the rules for asking engineers questions, you will improve your ability to work with the engineers on your team.

 

 

 

 

Critical Chain Project Management for Gifted Education

I’ve been reading up on formal project management methodologies and I’m starting to view many things through the project management lens. This has led me to wonder if perhaps some of the problems we see in public education could be addressed by using a different method of managing the project of education.

Like all projects, cost, resources, time, quality, risk, and scope constrain public education.

As we have added more and more educational requirements and standards to the teaching load, we have increased the scope Project Constraintsof public education.This scope increase has occurred during a time of budget cuts so the cost and resources available have gone down and the time spent in school has stayed the same. Predictably, this has decreased public education quality while increasing the risk that our student are unable to compete globally. Because public polices and checks on education have focused exclusively at the risk to students below average, the gifted students have suffered the most. If we define a successful education as one where students learn at their maximum ability level, our highly gifted, exceptionally gifted, and profoundly gifted students have a very high risk of not being successfully educated.

While obvious solutions include increasing funding and lengthen the school year, political constraints make those ideas virtually impossible to implement. Besides, by themselves they won’t solve the problems with public education. Instead we need to look at how we are managing the project of public education. To the extent that we are managing it at all, we seem to use a traditional critical path management method.

In public education, students begin in kindergarten and steadily learn their education tasks in a rigidly defined sequential order until high school graduation. In critical path project management methodology, if a task in the critical path is delayed, the entire project is delayed by the same amount of time. Unfortunately in our public education system, we do not have a good way of delaying the entire educational project. When a student fails to complete an educational task in the allotted time, they end up with permanent gaps in their education, become discouraged, graduate with a GPA that is below their innate potential, or even fail to graduate at all.

The problems with critical path management for the project of public education include:

  1. Grade level educational requirements are based on projected average “optimal” learning and fail to account for resource availability. By setting a learning schedule and then trying to fit all students into that schedule from the beginning, we fail to account for the vast differences in resource availability between the students. These resources can vary with each student throughout their education and include family support, financial stability, educational support, emotional/social security, existing subject knowledge, innate learning ability (giftedness), and available study time.
  2. Student Syndrome. Teachers and students know they have a set period of time to teach specific subjects and concepts.  If the actual learning task will take 5 days of study for the student but the teacher has allocated 10 days, the student will slack off for the first 5 days and only put in effort for the second 5 days. This creates two issues. First, many of our students, especially our gifted students, waste a significant amount of their potential learning time because they are unable to work at their natural pace. Second, if the student guessed wrong and it will actually take them a bit longer to learn a concept, they fall behind.
  3. Bad Multitasking. In critical path management students and teachers work on several ideas and subjects in short periods of time. Teachers must constantly show all students making progress across a wide spectrum of knowledge areas. This leads to the school day being split into multiple, short chunks of subject time which negatively impacts deep learning  — especially during the elementary school years. It can also lead to time being wasted on non-critical learning tasks.
  4. Parkinson’s Law. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Regardless of the time it may actually take for a class to learn a concept or body of knowledge, the class will work on the subject matter for the length of time the teacher or the school district have blocked out for it on the schedule.

As opposed to critical path, critical chain project management directly addresses many of the above issues. It takes into account that fact that some tasks will take longer than anticipated and others will go faster. It allows any unused “buffer” time to accumulate. The fast tasks balance out the slow tasks enabling the project of educating our students to a certain level to finish on time or early. Switching to critical chain project management for gifted education will allow our top students to excel and if we implement it across the board it has the potential to improve outcomes for all students, without increasing costs or lengthening the school year.

Critical chain public education will enable students to work at their own pace, move ahead when they personally are ready, and focusing in detail on one subject at a time. This will virtually eliminate student syndrome, bad multitasking, and Parkinson’s Law. It also may push us to flip our classrooms. Many computerized educational programs from Aleks to the Khan Academy already are using a critical chain approach to education. In these, students work at their own pace on one educational task at a time until mastery, without regard to a set calendar learning schedule or the mastery level of other students in their class.

We should change how we write educational standards. Instead of stating when students will learn a specific topic, the standards should define the critical chain order of subject mastery. We need to become comfortable with the idea that not all kids learn at the same pace and that there will be wide differences in knowledge. In reality, these wide differences already exist but they are hidden from us in most public schools. We rarely explore the depths of individual student knowledge, we only focus on the specific bits of information in the standards. Critical path education will allow all students, gifted and average, to dive deeply into subjects and even indulge their passions. Within a classroom, one student may spend a year immersed in American history and fulfill multiple “years” worth of requirements in just one year while their classmate may spend the same year focused on math. Similar to college undergraduate degrees, students will know what they must learn for each say, 4-year chunk of education. They will need to show progress each year through standardized testing, papers, and presentations. However, what they learn at any given time and how fast they learn it, is in their control. They can slow down for subjects that are personally confusing and speed up for topics that come to them naturally.

Yes, our gifted students may finish standard materials early, perhaps even years early than other students. This isn’t a negative. Our schools should maximize the potential of all students, not just educate everyone to the same, generic level each school year. By defining a critical chain of educational requirements, letting students know what those requirements are, and letting students work at their own pace through those requirements, we will improve educational outcomes for all our students.

 

 

Crack for Lunch: Tricking Our Brain with the American Diet

We all know Americans have a weight problem. For years we have blamed fat people for their inability to “exercise more and eat less.”  We need to rethink that attitude. Research is now showing that much of the food in the typical American diet does not play fair with our body’s natural mechanisms for signaling satiety. The more we eat, the hungrier we feel.

Scientists are seeing evidence that our processed food, especially the food that is deliciously high in sugar and fat, affects the pleasure centers of our brain in much the same way cocaine does. The food gives us a nice hit of happy endorphins that override our appetite-regulating hormones. Complicating matters is the caloric density of our convenience foods. Normally, as we eat our stomach recognizes both the physical sensation of becoming filled and the more chemical knowledge that calories have refueled us. Our modern, processed food lets us meet and exceed our caloric needs long before our stomachs are physically filled. For example, compare the physical space needed for 500 calories of fresh vegetables vs 500 calories of french fries. Thus craveable processed food pack an obesity encouraging double punch — decreasing our satiety signals while giving our pleasure centers a delightful ping.

Packaged foods, convenience foods, fast food, and school lunches are the top culprits. They leave us paradoxically both hungry and full. They contribute to sluggish afternoons. They decrease productivity at work and learning in our schools.

A quick look at the school lunch menu for my kids’ first week of school shows a highly processed diet of  pizza, popcorn (breaded & deep-fried) chicken, fried french toast sticks with fried tater tots, and pasta. Yes, there are vegetables served as well but they are frequently unappetizing and uneaten. Now I know school lunches are horribly underfunded and they feel they need to fix what kids will eat. However, the inexpensive foods served in school lunches reflect our agricultural policies and the heavy lobbying of the meat and dairy industries, not the nutritional needs of our students. The Department of Agriculture sets our official nutritional policies, not an independent, health and science based entity. Given the emerging science about processed food, this needs to change.

Compelling evidence shows higher levels of meat consumption associated with increased cancer risk and links excess iron to Alzheimer’s disease. According to the documentary Forks over Knives, in the early part of the 20th century, Americans ate 120 pounds of meat (beef, pork and chicken combined), 40 pounds of processed sugar, and 295 pounds of dairy each year. All these numbers have more than doubled and along with them cancers, heart disease, and obesity.

We have known for years that we should eat more vegetable and we as a nation have struggled to do so. Now that we are starting to understand some of the body chemistry involved, perhaps it is no wonder that despite all the obvious health benefits, we can’t eat just one.