Today, Alex talks with a best selling author, Tim Harford, who’s devoted a book to helping us make the world add up. And then Alex Talks to Ian Matthews who is a wellness specialist helping both Koreans and expats talk more openly about the importance of mental health and the costs to all companies if they do not take substantive action to improve the wellness of the work spaces.
Alex talks with best selling author Tim Harford about counting the world. Then we talk to wellness expert Ian Matthews about creating workplaces where everyone can thrive, not just survive.
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen, and it’s Wednesday, October 13. an unlucky number they say, but do we use numbers the right way. They really underpin so many of the business decisions we make, and our data driven world spins one way or the other, depending on the meteor angle. Today, we’ll welcome a bestselling author who’s devoted a book to helping us make the world add up. And on the advice theme, we’ll make this a wellness Wednesday by finding out why stress management is so vital for us all whatever industry we’re in, and how to go about it. By the way, we’d also love it if you could give us some feedback, get involved in our Koreabizcast community, or just share a great idea. Send us a message via LinkedIn search KBLA.
Alex Jensen: Now, the COVID-19 pandemics given us all a crash course in statistics from counting daily infections to predicting outbreaks to vaccine calculations. Our next guest is here to share the importance of having access to numbers. And I think also viewing them in the right way. He’s the bestselling author of How to make the world add up. Also, the undercover economist which did particularly well in South Korea, and led to the column in the Financial Times of the same name. He’s also the host of the BBC is more or less, among other affiliations. Tim Harford, thanks for joining us.
Tim Harford: It’s my pleasure. Thank you, Alex.
Alex Jensen: It’s something that resonates with me this idea of looking at numbers in a whole new light thanks to COVID-19, including, perhaps being overly optimistic at the start of the outbreak. Can you explain to us why understanding statistics is so important in viewing our world and decisions we make in this age of pandemic?
Tim Harford: Absolutely, I think we’ve grown into the habit of viewing statistics as a kind of political weapon. There are things that people quote, in order to try to win arguments, maybe they’re trying to get us to buy toothpaste, or maybe they’re trying to get us to vote for their political party. But we’ve tended to view them as a purely rhetorical argumentative devices. And I think that’s a big mistake. Because statistics are actually a matter of life and death, that has really been driven home over the last 15 months or so, the pandemic that surrounded us all, and we’ve gotten very used to looking at these graphs showing the exponential spread of cases or trying to estimate death rates. But I was making this argument long before the pandemic. And for me, statistics are like an essential tool for seeing things that we can’t see in any other way. So think about how an astronomer uses a radio telescope, or how air traffic control or for that matter, Air Defense use radar. For me, social scientists, the epidemiologist, the businessperson, they’ll use statistics, or they should be using statistics. In the same way. Statistics are a kind of radar, they’re a kind of telescope, they’re showing us things that we can’t see in any other way. And so, it’s really important to get comfortable and confident using statistics in a discerning manner, figuring out what’s true and figuring out what it isn’t.
Alex Jensen: Well, in this book, how to make the world add up, you argue that people respond emotionally rather than perhaps with logic to facts. And I can see myself doing that I can also see myself as a journalist manipulating data quite easily, you could say that, for example, there’s been this number of car accidents in this particular model of car and viewed through that particular lens. If it was reported that way, people would probably stop buying that model of car, when that’s a very narrow and misleading lens. And that’s just of course, one of many examples. How would you advise us to view statistics instead?
Tim Harford: For me, you can boil it down to the 3C’s, if you like, Calm, Context, and Curiosity. So calm is just that moment you describe of viewing statistics emotionally, just trying to get through that. Most of the claims that we see whether they’re statistical claims or otherwise, they’re framed in a very emotional way. That’s what sells newspapers. That’s what gets clicks online. That’s what causes content to go viral. So, we buy emotions, I mean, anger, fear, but also maybe joy or laughter, but it takes some kind of emotional engagement for people to really pay attention. And that’s fine. But we need to get through that emotion and then go back and think again in a calmer frame of mind. And I find that simply noticing your own emotional reaction for a couple of seconds is often all it takes, you see a headline, you see a tweet, or Facebook post. And before you retweet, or share, or delete in anger, just notice that you’re having an emotional response, acknowledge what those emotional responses, and then go back and take a second look. So that’s the first C is calm. The second C is context, this gets back to what you were saying about that particular model of car doesn’t make any sense to say that this many people have been killed in accidents in this particular model of car unless you have context. So, given the number of miles driven, is this car more dangerous than other cars? Is the accident rate going up? Or is it going down? I think it’s getting better or worse? Those are straightforward. Examples of context, or even if this car is more dangerous than other cars, how dangerous are traffic accidents in general? how likely are you to die in a traffic accident versus, for example, to die after contracting a fatal case of COVID, or to die of cancer, or to die of a heart attack? So, these are not complicated statistical questions. These are simple comparisons, asking whether a number is big or small, asking how a number relates to another number. And even if you don’t have time to do that, as a consumer of the news, you should at least be able to notice whether the source is giving you context, is the journalist or is this social media post? Are they giving me the comparisons and the trends that I need to make sense of this particular claim? I mentioned 3C’s calm is the first context is the second. And the third, I would say is curiosity. And curiosity is really simple. It’s just a case of using statistics to help you understand things about the world that you don’t understand, rather than using statistics to constantly prop up your arguments, or to try to convince other people. So don’t worry about convincing other people don’t worry about trying to convince yourself that you’re right, you’ve been right or wrong that you’re on the right side of history. Instead, just say the stuff about the world that I don’t know that I would like to know. And using solid statistics can help me understand that. So, the 3C’s Calm, Context, Curiosity.
Alex Jensen: We are obviously with our platform here seeking to feed a business community, which is made up of individuals who, of course, as family members, and as homeowners, or whatever their say, stays in life will be very interested in applying this logic to all areas. But for most businesses, it’s that profit number we place all our focus on, is there anything you’d like to share with data and business?
Tim Harford: Yes, I think it’s important to find a way to connect what the numbers are telling you with what your personal experience is telling you. People might think that because I’m a bit of a nerd, because I love numbers, because I love data, that I think that data are privileged, and you should pay attention to the numbers and ignore your personal experience. But really, you need to combine the two, you’re getting different things. So, your experience as a businessperson, of talking to customers, of maybe going to the retail outlet, where your products are sold, or going to the factory floor, then having a look around and see how things are working there. Those sorts of personal experiences understanding the journey of the product, understanding the experience of the customer, and they’re going to tell you things that you can’t see in the numbers. At the same time, the numbers are giving you an overall more representative picture of what’s happening. So, it’s not that the single angry customer or you know, a single problem on the factory floor. Excuse your whole view. One way I described this in the book, how to make the world that up, is imagine the bird’s eye view. And the worm’s eye view to the worm is seeing everything super close. And the bird just sees the big picture. But the bird is a long way away. Whereas the worm is really seeing every detail and to see everything you need both. And for me, statistics often give you the bird’s eye view. They’re giving you the overview. They’re showing you the big picture. But that’s not enough. You don’t just want the big picture. You want the details as well and that’s where your personal experience comes in. And one skill is to integrate the two and another skill is to resolve the contradictions where your personal experience tells you one thing and the data tells you something else, to ask yourself, how do these two things fit together? where, you know, where are the problems? Where are the, Where are the contradictions? And how can they be resolved?
Alex Jensen: A final question is perhaps slightly more personal. I mentioned at the start, the undercover economist, as a book did really well in South Korea, hopefully how to make the world add up also do well here. What do you think it is about the Korean reading audience that has resonated so much with your writing?
Tim Harford: It’s hard to know it. I mean, I’m very glad because I think people may know that Korea has become culturally very important around the world. And my children, who have never been to Korea, watch Korean TV, they listen to Korean pop music. They’re fascinated by Korea. And so, when I tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, people in Korea love my stuff’, I think they look at me with a little bit of suspicion. But it’s not something I fully understand. I think, in every in the success of any product, there’s a little bit of luck. And that’s particularly true with a creative product, like music, or like a book. People will find it and they’ll tell their friends, they’ll spread the word for you, or they won’t. And it’s never easy to fully understand. But I’m extremely grateful. I am a person who just loves trying to make sense of the world. I’m very curious. I like to understand the things around me, and how they work, and what’s going on under the surface. That’s what I tried to put into my books. And wherever people find that pleasing in the books, and they and they, you know, they like reading the books, they like talking about the books in sharing the books. That’s obviously a great privilege for me. So, for everyone who’s bought one of my books, thank you so much.
Alex Jensen: Tim Harford, thank you so much as well, for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure.
Tim Harford: The pleasure is all mine. Thank you.
Alex Jensen: And let me remind you if you want to get involved, offer your feedback, join our community in any shape, or form, drop us an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Jensen: We now turn to a different kind of business, but perhaps no less necessary than all the others that we’ve already covered. Ian Matthews is a global wellness specialist. He’s also founder of Zenbok, and leading exponent of health coaching via welltech. Great to have you with us on Koreabizcast.
Ian Matthews: Hi, Alex. It’s wonderful to be here and thank you so much for the invite.
Alex Jensen: And as we’ve been doing with every guest when we’re introducing them for the first time, I think we need to hear your story. How you came to Korea and came to be doing this type of business here?
Ian Matthews: Right? So, I’ve had sort of four decades of Korea or Korea’s. 18 years as an electronic engineer in the British Army. That was followed by two years corporate training manager for companies like Cisco Systems. And then for the last 20 years, primarily the health and wellness industry. How did I get to be here? Well, in 2009, I was working in Dublin in a spa and leisure complex. And my now wife Kyungmi came to me for a personal wellness consultation and as they say the rest is history. Here I am.
Alex Jensen: Well, I’ve no idea what you said to her. But that sounds like a fascinating story itself. She was obviously impressed.
Ian Matthews: Well, I tell you something. I was taking her through some activities, and you know, exercises on the studio floor. And at one stage, I was trying to demonstrate a star jump. And I managed to whack her in the face. So, I think it kind of stunned us so much at that opportunity. I thought, okay, I’m in there. I mean, you know, I’m in the zone here. I could ask her for a date for a cup of coffee. And I think she was still so dizzy. She has to said ‘Yes’. So, we went for a date and again, yeah, we’re married now.
Alex Jensen: She was literally starstruck.
Ian Matthews: literally starstruck.
Alex Jensen: Well, there we go. Um, many people around me in my daily life are not necessarily outwardly all that interested in, in wellness. But if you actually have a conversation with them, they will say things that reveal perhaps the need for more of that in their lives. Perhaps the world has changed significantly to the extent that there is openness, actually, to at least having the conversation which is a positive thing. But what’s been your journey into this from a training perspective? How do you in other words, distinguish yourself from those everyday types of conversations people might have?
Ian Matthews: Yeah, certainly. I mean, I think we all agree that we’re living in unprecedented times and the like to stay positive as part trouble with this. And I think what it’s actually doing is it’s a wakeup call for humanity, not just for ourselves, or our communities or our nation, I think people are sort of feeling their mortality more, Alex, if I’m honest with you, and realizing that they really do need to look after their personal wellness and self-care. And the BOK stops with you, you know, too many times we give our power over to other people, whether it’s doctors or, you know, clinicians who do amazing work at, you know, at the sort of chronic levels. But most of us, you know, in our day-to-day life, and the stresses that we face, we can do something about it, we really can’t, it’s just learning what to do, you know, self-care routines. I was raised by a military father, and he espoused hard work, which is what Koreans do, right? And he was always saying to me, ‘if you’re going to do a job do it properly’ and I remember correctly, you know, it sinks in at an early age. And I carried that over into a hugely enjoyable and successful military life, and then a corporate role as well. But in the late 1990s, I suddenly just, I don’t know why it was a conscious awakening, and I’m not sure what it was, I woke up to the hidden costs. And I realized that, you know, stress was actually having effect on me physically. And I looked around, and I saw bright red faces in, you know, working in San Jose, in the huge Cisco headquarters in Silicon Valley, I saw lots of bright red faces, and people who couldn’t walk up the stairs without being out of breath. They would give presentations, and you could see that they were agitated and, and this yeast, if you like, so it raised my attention to the fact that it shouldn’t actually be like this, we, no matter how hard we work, we should be able to self-regulate. And I found that people were doing it externally or going to, like I said, clinicians or therapists, or taking substances to numb themselves from the stress. And I thought No, and I started to look inwards, I turned inwards. And mindfulness is the way that I connect with myself to find out how I’m really doing mentally, physically and emotionally.
Alex Jensen: I don’t know ‘patient’ is the right word, but just go with me for a second on this. Were you in a sense, your first patient?
Ian Matthews: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And from that moment there, you know, in the 1990s, right up until now, I’m a working in progress. I’m very fortunate, because I’ve made it my passion, you know, in my purpose, to share what I’ve researched, and the incredible global wellness thought leaders that I’ve been tutored by including Jon Kabat-Zinn, personally, people like, Ticknak Han (17:58) who I managed to be in the same room as during one of his retreats in Seoul, and it rubs off on you, and then you carry that forward. So, you set yourself out your own framework for self-regulation and self-care. And I’ve got it down to a team now, and I practice on 1000s of my own clients. And I want to share it with as many people as possible to empower people to look after themselves. But yeah, it started it was it was very much, you know, looking after myself putting my own oxygen mask on first. Once I was able to do that, then be at ease and comfortable in my own skin. Finally, I thought, ‘Wow, I want everyone to know this’, and everyone can know it and they can be like that.
Alex Jensen: And as you mentioned before you married into Korea. So, you are now basically you’ve been based here how many years?
Ian Matthews: So, I’ve been on and off actually, because I kind of work as a digital nomad. And we myself and my wife we traveled around Europe a lot over the last few years too so sort of a year here a couple of years back but now you know we come back to settle in and again Korea is so tech savvy to get into this online health coaching via welltech because there’s no better country to do that. Everyone is so tech savvy, and wanting to be involved in wellness technology, and I’m talking apps and wearables that you can use to help you with your posture with your breathing and your activities during the day. And that’s the people I’m now connected to and certified to help and it’s extremely exciting and how tech savvy are the youth of Korea, you know, the middle aged and even the aged now over here. So, what better platform you know to espouse using welltech for your own well-being.
Alex Jensen: Yeah, I’ll come back to your Korea story and the stresses we face here but just to continue on that tangent for a moment. Tele-medicine and that has instinctively, to me felt like a problem, because you may lack a connection with the practitioner, but the way you describe it potentially enhances the connection. And not just the connection personally but between these devices. So, would you say that it’s possible? In other words, to offer this in a way that will make people feel like they’re getting a better overall service.
Ian Matthews: Yeah, absolutely. The technology now is getting so advanced, that it’s actually real time, you know, you’re connected to a real live coach, a professional coach, such as myself, through the technology. And it’s as if he is there with you anyway. And you can do it just by using voice if you want, if you’re not too confident in having somebody that you’re looking at on the screen. So it could be to your smartphone, or your iPhone via one of two or three apps that I use. Or you could do it via the screen as well. And literally, you know, you could see me there and I could be taking you through a meditation, we could be sat together, I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me, great voice and picture quality. And for all intents and purposes, I won’t go into the depths of the of how energy works. But where your attention goes, energy flows. And when both people, even miles across from each other across the world, like I do, are in sync with that moment with eye-to-eye contact, that energy is flowing, Alex, believe me, believe me.
Alex Jensen: I can feel your presence across the line right now. And you have a very soothing voice, by the way.
Ian Matthews: So, I’ve been told.
Alex Jensen: Not that the mental health side of it is disconnected from the body. But it does seem like your focus then is very much on the mental side of things. And we can all Intuit how much unhealthy stress there may be in the modern Korean workplace, not just the Korean workplace. But I’d like to talk about that today on Koreabizcast a little bit. What are the major issues there that you see?
Ian Matthews: Well, as I say, I think coming and going for many years here now and working, I’ve worked with Korean companies. I did some workshops with ‘Kim & Chang’ in Gwanghwamun in there. A few moons ago, lunchtime sessions with a bit of activity, a bit of breathing breathwork a bit of meditation too. And it’s always a simple, practical level that everyone can do. There’s nothing inherently deep or religious or non-religious. It’s open to everyone. And what I found, with all my work with whether it’s Koreans or expats here too who I’ve worked with, for example, Yeong Sang bae is that there is still in terms of our awareness of stress, depression, there’s a tabu about speaking about it, it’s still ongoing, you know, and there’s a stigma about meeting or seeking help. I think 1 in 4, there’s an OECD recent study, 1 in 4 people in Korea have mental health issues at some stage of their life, but only 1 in 10 will seek any help. Which is obviously, you know, extremely upsetting. People don’t openly discuss their emotions. And I think that’s for, you know, a fallback to the way is always been, you know, in the all of healer, let’s say, so even with all the advances in technology, can we discuss these things openly with each other? Not really well, we don’t, let’s say we don’t know how to the work ethic is highly competitive, then everything gets bottled up. And if it’s not bottled up, then it’s sort of resolved at the bottom of a bottle if you if you get what I’m saying. So, there’s no natural release, there’s no sense of turning inwards and saying, well, all of this stress that I’m going through, I’m reacting to it on a daily basis, maybe in inappropriate ways, mentally or physically. It doesn’t need to be that way. With the right understanding and education, whether it’s youth all the way through, we can learn how to release this tension naturally, using our breath, using our body, and using our emotions. And quite rightly, Alex, it’s an excellent point. Everything starts with your thoughts. How are you thinking. And I start with finding ways and tools and strategies to teach kids, to teach you, to teach corporate businesses, how to relax their mind, and really reconnect with their true nature. And you can do that with formal practices of self-care, you need a routine, you need a framework that works, and you just need to get started and show up.
Alex Jensen: It sounds like such an obvious point to make but if people are ignoring it, maybe they need to have it fed to them. That if you get the mind right, you’re going to work better business is going to be more profitable. In other words, there should be an incentive for business leaders to ensure their workplaces are happy, peaceful places, right?
Ian Matthews: For sure. I mean, we’re in the middle of mental health awareness week and world mental health, I think the world mental health day awareness days on Sunday. So it’s a global phenomenon. It’s unstoppable. I think people’s consciousness, like I say, because of unprecedented times are being raised. And I think a lot of people now are getting far more open minded to the possibility of wellness and self-care, and the techniques which you can use to do that. These are techniques that you can do anywhere, you can do it on a bus, walking to school, you can do it in the before you have a corporate, you know, boardroom meeting, it just everyone wins, everyone benefits. If you go to work stressed, you’re giving off those energetic stress vibes, it’s likely that you’ll have a bit of a conflict with somebody that you meet, because what you see is what you believe with the way you’re thinking in your mind at that time. If you can manage your thoughts stream, you know, and you can just relax your body. If you can be aware of the emotions just building up within you. And the techniques, we’ll show you how to do that. And then how to just manage them and sit with them. Then you your thoughts slow down, you have actually you can’t help him more positive thoughts anyway. Because you’re at ease within yourself, people who meet you go, he looks pretty chilled, I wouldn’t mind having a chat with him and a cup of coffee. And that’s great for you in your relationships. It’s great for what you’re saying to yourself in your head. So, you calm down. It’s great for business, your clients cell opposite you will want to carry on the conversation, I’m sure.
Alex Jensen: Just a quick final question because I think we can revisit numerous topics that we’ve covered already. And this is the first chat with you, Ian. But for people who might be still put off, they might like the idea but still feel put off. But they might want to incorporate some strategies into their daily life. It might be when they’re exercising, it might be when they’re walking the dog, it might be when they’re doing like driving, for example, is there anything that they can do immediately to help themselves?
Ian Matthews: We have a healing nerve inside us, every single one of us and it’s called the ‘Vagus nerve’. This thing is your accelerator for stress, or it’s your brake to calm you down. So, there’s those two sides if you get a bit more clinical are your parents your sympathetic nervous system, the accelerator, which is your fight or flight response to get you out of trouble, and your parasympathetic nervous system, which is rest and digest. In other words, no threat time to relax. breath is easily the most accessible way to control that yourself. And it’s so easy to train people to do that. Do you want to go for a quick exercise now with three breaths?
Alex Jensen: Go head.
Ian Matthews: Right. Okay. It’s called shore breathing. So just sit wherever you are, but try and sit upright if you can, if you’re driving, please, please take extra care while you’re doing this, keep your focus on the road. But you can still do this. It’s very short and sweet. But it will give you just that first inkling of what you can do to control your stress levels yourself and just activate that healing nerve anywhere. So, imagine you’re blowing are breathing in and out of a straw. Imagine a straw so you’re pursed your lips with a circle in the middle of your mouth, okay, you’re going to breathe in and out of your mouth, and will breathe in and out once, then do it again twice. And do it again three times. Okay, so ready to give that a go.
Alex Jensen: I’d already started to be honest back and start again.
Ian Matthews: Okay, so the I’ll do the timing will bring in for three seconds. And I will count three seconds to breathe out and we’ll repeat that a total of three times. So get ready. Relax your shoulders, relax how you’re sitting, etc, etc. I want you to focus on the breath coming in and out of your pursed lips. As if your life depends on it because it might. Okay, get ready. So Breathe in through the mouth. Two, Three, breathe out 3,2,1 focus on the mouth. Breathe in. Two, three, breathe out 3,2,1. Breathe in Two, three. Now extend this out breath, Two, One. Relax. Sigh. go back to normal breathing. Just take a moment now to notice what’s going on inside yourself anywhere inside your body to see if there’s anything that might have dialed down your stress or physical tension, even by one click. What do you think, Alex?
Alex Jensen: Yeah, well, I really felt it and what I loved about It is rather than just trying to do a deep breath through the nose and out through the mouth by focusing on the, on the mouth shape and the straw idea,
Ian Matthews: Correct.
Alex Jensen: Like it took me more psychologically into that breath. I was left afterwards feeling more relaxed, but also more conscious of my vaccine site where I was jab yesterday double vaccine now, by the way.
Ian Matthews: Okay, congratulations.
Alex Jensen: But maybe that’s a good thing because it took me out my mind and more into the physical sensation that I had.
Ian Matthews: Absolutely. And you know, the fact that you notice that your mind had wandered to vaccine, etc. But then you brought it back, you brought your attention back. That’s the key. That’s the secret. You’ll never control your mind. It’s impossible. It’s designed to think, but when you’ve noticed that it’s gone away. And then you bring your attention back to your lips, your purse lips, as you said, that my friend is mindfulness. And you just become the first I think podcast mindfulness expert in Korea.
Alex Jensen: Well, there we go. Ian Matthews, I think you’re the expert. But I feel like an expert on pursed lips at least. Ian Matthews, global wellness specialist founder of Zenbok leading exponent of health coaching via welltech. You’re adding to the list of qualifications here since that star jumping in Dublin all those years ago. It’s been a pleasure having you with us on Koreabizcast.
Ian Matthews: Likewise, Alex, thank you so much. It’s wonderful to be here and hopefully look forward to chatting again sometime soon.
Alex Jensen: Well, thanks for being with us today on Koreabizcast with the KBLA enter both Ian Matthews and Tim Harford for being on this latest edition. Thursday’s coming up fast, but don’t let the speed of the week stress you out and don’t let those numbers run wild either. As ever see you again tomorrow from 7am, Korea time.