Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Non-intuitive Government Policy #39213

Article at The Atlantic

Behind Door #1 are people of extraordinary ability: scientists, artists, educators, business people and athletes. Behind Door #2 stand a random assortment of people. Which door should the United States open?

In 2010, the United States more often chose Door #2, setting aside about 40,000 visas for people of extraordinary ability and 55,000 for people randomly chosen by lottery.

It's just one small example of our bizarre U.S. policy toward high-skill immigrants.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Overjustification Effect

Blog post at You Are Not So Smart
Related to intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation

According to the research, in modern America the average income required to be happy day-to-day, to experience “emotional well being” is about $75,000 a year. According to the researchers, past that point adding more to your income “does nothing for happiness, enjoyment, sadness, or stress.”

In 1980, David Rosenfield, Robert Folger and Harold Adelman at Southern Methodist University revealed a way you can defeat the overjustification effect. Seek employers who dole out reward – paychecks, bonuses, promotions, etc. – based not on quotas or task completions but instead based on competence.

The results of the study suggested when you get rewarded based on how well you perform a task, as long as those reasons are made perfectly clear, rewards will generate that electric exuberance of intrinsic validation, and the higher the reward, the better the feeling and the more likely you will try harder in the future. On the other hand, if you are getting rewarded just for being a warm body, no matter how well you do your job, no matter what you achieve, the electric feeling is absent. In those conditions greater rewards don’t lead to more output, don’t encourage you to strive for greatness. Overall, the study suggested rewards don’t have motivational power unless they make you feel competent. Money alone doesn’t do that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Teach practical math

Article at the New York Times

A math curriculum that focused on real-life problems would still expose students to the abstract tools of mathematics, especially the manipulation of unknown quantities. But there is a world of difference between teaching “pure” math, with no context, and teaching relevant problems that will lead students to appreciate how a mathematical formula models and clarifies real-world situations.

Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering. In the finance course, students would learn the exponential function, use formulas in spreadsheets and study the budgets of people, companies and governments. In the data course, students would gather their own data sets and learn how, in fields as diverse as sports and medicine, larger samples give better estimates of averages. In the basic engineering course, students would learn the workings of engines, sound waves, TV signals and computers. Science and math were originally discovered together, and they are best learned together now.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

W.L. Gore Case Study

Article at Management Exchange

It’s hard to talk about management innovation without tipping your hat to W.L. Gore, the venerable maker of Gore-Tex and a host of other pioneering materials and products as diverse as synthetic vascular grafts, Elixir guitar strings, and Glide dental floss. Lauded as "the world's most innovative company" time and time again, Gore's wholly original (and endlessly inspirational) model for creating a true democracy of innovation is firmly rooted in the story of founder Bill Gore.

Bill Gore conceived of W.L. Gore as a kind of experiment in management innovation—one that is still ongoing. The questions that drove him at founding are crucial questions managers everywhere must grapple with today: Was it possible to build a company with no hierarchy—where everyone was free to talk with everyone else? How about a company where there were no bosses, no supervisors, no managers and no vice presidents?  Could W. L. Gore preserve a sense of family and collegiality even as it scaled?  Could you create a company with no “core” business, one that was as focused on creating the future as on preserving the past? The answers to each of these questions was an emphatic "Yes!"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Edward Tufte

Interview at The Washington Monthly

Edward Tufte occupies a revered and solitary place in the world of graphic design. Over the last three decades, he has become a kind of oracle in the growing field of data visualization—the practice of taking the sprawling, messy universe of information that makes up the quantitative backbone of everyday life and turning it into an understandable story.

In the public realm, data has never been more ubiquitous—or more valuable to those who know how to use it. “If you display information the right way, anybody can be an analyst,” Tufte once told me. “Anybody can be an investigator.”

“Tufte treats data like good writing,” he said. “You have a certain thought—how clearly and beautifully are you conveying it?”

Good design, then, is not about making dull numbers somehow become magically exhilarating, it is about picking the right numbers in the first place.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Google's Project Oxygen

New York Times article

retyped from the NYT article's image

Google's Rules
To engineer better managers, Google pored over performance reviews, feedback surveys and award nominations, correlating words and phrases as only a data-driven company like it can do. Here is an edited list of the directives it produced - in order of importance - as well as a few management pitfalls it found.

Eight Good Behaviors
  • Be a good coach
    • Provide specific constructive feedback, balancing the negative and the positive.
    • Have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees' specific strengths.
  • Empower your team and don't micromanage
    • Balance giving freedom to your employees, while still being available for advice. Make "stretch" assignments to help the team tackle big problems.
  • Express interest in team members' success and personal well-being
    • Get to know your employees as people, with lives outside of work.
    • Make new members of your team feel welcome and help ease their transition.
  • Don't be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented
    • Focus on what employees want the team to achieve and how they can help achieve it.
    • Help the team prioritize work and use seniority to remove roadblocks.
  • Be a good communicator and listen to your team
    • Communication is two-way: you both listen and share information.
    • Hold all-hands meetings and be straightforward about the messages and goals of the team. Help the team connect the dots.
    • Encourage open dialogue and listen to the issue and concerns of your employees.
  • Help your employees with career development
  • Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
    • Even in the midst of turmoil, keep the team focused on goals and strategy.
    • Involve the team in setting and evolving the team's vision and making progress toward it.
  • Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team
    • Roll up your sleeves and conduct work side by side with the team, when needed.
    • Understand the specific challenges of the work.
Three Pitfalls of Managers
  • Have trouble making a transition to the team
    • Sometimes, fantastic individual contributors are promoted to managers without the necessary skills to lead people.
    • People hired from outside the organization don't always understand the unique aspects of managing at Google.
  • Lack a consistent approach to performance management and career development
    • Don't help employees understand how these work at Google and doesn't coach them on their options to develop and stretch.
    • Not proactive, waits for the employee to come to them.
  • Spend too little time managing and communicating

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Linchpin Hierarchy

  1. Do exactly what the boss says.
  2. Ask the boss hard questions.
  3. Tell the boss what your best choice among the available options is. Insist.
  4. Have co-workers and bosses ask you hard questions.
  5. Invent a whole new way to do things, something that wasn't on the list.
  6. Push and encourage and lead your co-workers to do ever better work.
  7. Insist that they push and encourage you.
I might quibble with the ranking for #6 - I think it's difficult to rank compared with #5. Perhaps Seth is thinking of #5 as only benefiting yourself, whereas #6 benefits the group? Still, pushing for incremental improvement in many  people versus a revolutionary improvement that can be spread...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Observe > Predict

Blog post by Scott Berkun

There’s an old concept among architects and urban planners called desire paths. If you walk around a college campus, or urban park,  it’s easy to spot the well tread paths between buildings people have made for themselves. These are desire paths, or desire lines. The natural behavior among people shows you where the optimal path should be.

Rather than invent everything out of their own mind, wise creators know a little observation can be an easier way to find the right ideas.

From Flickr

Why fund science that doesn't benefit society?

Blog post at Page F30
links to a Science Channel interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Do you think I'm being driven when I look at the early universe or study the rotation of galaxies or the consumption of matter by black holes, do you think I'm being driven by the lessening of the suffering of the people on Earth? Most research on the frontier of science is not driven by that goal. Period.

Now, that being said, most of the greatest applications of science that do improve the human condition comes from just that kind of research. Therein is the intellectual link that needs to be established in an elective democracy where tax-based monies pay for the research on the frontier.

So I take issue with the assumption that science is simply to make life better. Science is to understand the world. And use that -- now you've got a utility belt of understanding. Now you access your tools out of that...to use that power in the greater good of our species.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Great Entrepreneurs Think

Article at Inc.com

Sarasvathy likes to compare expert entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs: at their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest. Corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they are going to make Swedish meatballs. They then proceed to shop, measure, mix, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

You’re not a profession. You’re a set of skills.

Blog post at Pop Economics

I’m Pop. I’m not going to tell you my profession, and most of you who have guessed have been incorrect... But I think I’m pretty good at writing, math, and turning complex subjects into something everyday people can understand. I (just recently) have gained basic web publishing and marketing knowledge. And I think I have a decent eye for catchy design.

Ok, so what profession am I? No idea, right? That’s the point. I could be a number of things. I could write technical manuals. I could be in marketing for an engineering company. I could be a teacher.