Why I learned how to do math with the ancient abacus

Vox recently featured an excerpt from my new book Learn Better. I pasted the nut of the story below:


As a technology, the abacus predates the making of glass and the invention of the alphabet. The Romans had some sort of counting device with beads. So did the early Greeks. The word “calculate” comes from the expression “drawing pebbles,” basically using some sort of abacus-like device to do math.

Researchers from Harvard to China have studied the device, showing that abacus students often learn more than students who use more modern approaches. UC San Diego psychologist David Barner led one of the studies, and he argues that abacus training can significantly boost math skills with effects potentially lasting for decades. “Based on everything we know about early math education and its long-term effects, I’ll make the prediction that children who thrive with abacus will have higher math scores later in life, perhaps even on the SAT,” Barner told me.





Errors in Learn Better

Despite my best efforts, I made some errors while writing my book “Learn Better.”  In the space below, I’m going to keep a running list of any gaffes or mistakes or needed clarifications. I’ll also send this list to my publisher to make sure that these errors are corrected in future editions.

If you find any additional errors, please email me and I’ll list them here, and again my regrets and apologizes for the mistakes.

On page 107, I incorrectly identified where Joshua Aronson did his graduate school work. He got his PhD from Princeton, not Stanford.

On page 296, I misspelled Giada Di Stefano. It is Giada, not Giadia.


Buzzfeed Quiz

Quizzing is a highly effective way to learn, and so I had a colleague help me pull together a Buzzfeed quiz that tests your knowledge of learning to learn. Like all things Buzzfeed, the quiz is a little goofy. But it does include an awesome Batman gif.

Tell me what you think in the comments.

Q and A with Paul Zak


I first met Paul Zak as I was researching my book on trust. He’s one of the biggest names in the field, having studied the field both as an economist and a neuroscientist, and eventually Zak and I went skydiving together to see if the experience might boost my trust hormone. Zak has a new book out titled Trust Factor, and he answered a few questions via email.

Why did you write the book?

​After my research identifying the neurochemical oxytocin as a key signal that we trust another person, companies started coming to my lab telling me they thought trust was important at workplaces and asking ​me how they could create a culture of trust. I really did not know how to answer but I felt as a “trust expert” I should know this, so I spent 8 years measuring brain activity to figure out how to measure, manage, and improve trust in organizations.

Why does the book matter?
​My research showed that there are eight building blocks that leaders can influence to create​ ​a culture of trust, and my studies show how to change these to produce the biggest impact on brain and behavior. People who work in high trust companies are more productive, energetic, less likely to leave to work elsewhere, get sick less often, happier, and even get paid more. And, their companies are substantially more profitable. ​Trust improves the triple bottom line: it is good for employees, improves organizational performance, and strengthens families and communities.

What will readers gain?
​A brief introduction to the science of trust, access to a online survey to measure trust in their own organizations, and a step by step guide to building trust through examples of companies that have followed these guidelines. If you don’t manage culture, it will surely manage you, so it is time to to charge of culture using the latest science of human interactions. ​