Economics for Everyman

September 1, 2016

I’ve always had an interest in getting to know the fundamentals of economics. I’ve even bought a number of introductory books over the years to educate myself. Unfortunately I found them all a bit dull and gave up. However I’ve always been on the outlook for something accessible as it’s clearly an important subject.

All this was heightened by Brexit. I followed articles and opinions in a variety of media (hoping to develop an informed and balanced viewpoint) but ended up confused especially as many of the competing arguments were quite direly presented (here).

I often think this is clumsily deliberate with a blatant diversion to emotional triggers and kneejerk responses (which doesn’t say much for the politicians estimates of the voting public). If more people were better informed, it must be a good thing.

The above video by Ha-Joon Chang is a welcome relief (‘95% of economics is common sense’). Well made and very instructive and gives just enough info to tempt a longer investigation.

‘Economics is for everyone’, argues legendary economist Ha-Joon Chang in our latest mind-blowing RSA Animate. This is the video economists don’t want you to see! Chang explains why every single person can and SHOULD get their head around basic economics. He pulls back the curtain on the often mystifying language of derivatives and quantitative easing, and explains how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel. Arm yourself with some facts, and get involved in discussions about the fundamentals that underpin our day-to-day lives.

A recent book of his is: Economics: The User’s Guide. It gets excellent reviews but is still a daunting 528 pages! I’ll order it from my local library (partly to help keep it going and partly because I’m trying to buy less books, the house is full of them).

Background on Ha-Joon Chang:

“I was born in Seoul, South Korea, on 7 October, 1963 (there are stories about what life was like in South Korea in my youth in the Prologue of my book, Bad Samaritans). I came to the UK as a graduate student at the Faculty of Economics and Politics, University of Cambridge in 1986. I earned my PhD in 1992. I have been teaching economics at the Faculty of Economics (as it is called now) and the Development Studies programme at the University of Cambridge since 1990.”

Pitching By Conversation

July 13, 2016


Pitching is a common way of trying to garner interest and hopefully, eventually, funding and support. However, in casual situations, it can come over as quite mechnical and forced. I’ve done this myself and also had it done to me! Could there be, on occasion, a better way?

There’s a nice story by Kevin Starr, who is a Foundation Director, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that gives a very honest example which lead him to consider this problem further. The points made are quite general.

Some extracts from the article:

It’s because a pitch is a really weird way to communicate. Its basic premise is that time is scarce and power is unequal. Even if concise and well-organized, the information comes in a one-way rush that forces the listener into an uncomfortable, passive role. The listener starts to fidget and look around, and the talker slides into the role of the supplicant who knows her time is slipping away. Anxiety and/or annoyance ensue, and it takes great social skills on the part of somebody for it to end well…

These days, when I work with social entrepreneurs, I suggest that they dump the whole “elevator pitch” thing in favor of a “hallway conversation” approach that more closely approximates how human beings communicate. I’m not saying you should wing it: You can and should prepare. There are some common patterns in funder-doer interactions that, if anticipated, will lead to productive, comfortable, and authentic conversations…

Here’s the thing: If you want funders to go down the road with you, you need to make them feel: 1) smart, and 2) comfortable. Make that your mantra. Make it easy for them to grasp what you’re up to, and master your own anxiety so you don’t trigger it in them. We are talking about an encounter between good people who want the same things. A pitch turns it into an ordeal; a conversation makes it real. Choose the conversation.

He also gives some concrete suggestions about how to carry this out, it’s a helpful and illuminating read.

Acting Like A Thought Leader

July 1, 2016

Something light for the weekend🙂

How Likeable Are You?

May 21, 2016

3059358-inline-i-5-how-to-know-which-skills-to-develop-at-each-stage-of-your-careerClick to enlarge

When I first saw this I thought it was a bit simplistic and naive but after thinking about it a bit more (in the context of my own and colleague’s careers) I’m now thinking it could be right!

That being said, I think the ability to ‘get things done’ is probably key.

There’s supporting info in the original article here.

A National Innovation Plan – Call for Ideas

May 6, 2016


From the UK Department of Business, Innovation & Skills:

Innovation can transform lives. It can help to address our biggest societal and economic challenges such as energy supply, food security and managing the impacts of demographic change. It enables businesses to develop new ideas, products and services, create new jobs and export opportunities.

The UK has a long and strong history in science and innovation, and a world-leading reputation, being ranked second in the Global Innovation Index in 2015. But there can be no complacency about the global challenges we face and the increasing levels of competition. At the same time, the nature of innovation is changing towards greater use of digitally connected technologies and data. This is changing how goods and services are produced and delivered, and transforming established markets. This survey seeks views on how the UK should further develop its innovation framework and system. This will help us to develop a National Innovation Plan.

See here.

The call ends on the 30th May 2016.

The Paradox of Unanimity

March 2, 2016

I’ve been on lots of committees; for projects, bids and also charity work.

So, I was interested to come across this (see here):

Under ancient Jewish law, if a suspect on trial was unanimously found guilty by all judges, then the suspect was acquitted. This reasoning sounds counterintuitive, but the legislators of the time had noticed that unanimous agreement often indicates the presence of systemic error in the judicial process, even if the exact nature of the error is yet to be discovered. They intuitively reasoned that when something seems too good to be true, most likely a mistake was made.

In a new paper to be published in The Proceedings of The Royal Society A, a team of researchers, Lachlan J. Gunn, et al., from Australia and France has further investigated this idea, which they call the “paradox of unanimity.”

And under More Examples (further down the article):

5) In many committee meetings, in today’s big organizations, there is a trend towards the idea that decisions must be unanimous. For example, a committee that ranks job applicants or evaluates key performance indicators (KPIs) often will argue until everyone in the room is in agreement. If one or two members are in disagreement, there is a tendency for the rest of the committee to win them over before moving on. A take-home message of our analysis is that the dissenting voice should be welcomed. A wise committee should accept that difference of opinion and simply record there was a disagreement. The recording of the disagreement is not a negative, but a positive that demonstrates that a systemic bias is less likely.

Reinvention As Personal R&D

February 22, 2016

I’ve (so far) had three types of career: academic (internationally), business manager (in two large UK companies) and as an independent consultant (all in rather different technical areas).

I’m currently thinking about the next phase, which will probably centre around ‘giving something back to the community’, although perhaps not in a traditional way.

Part of this is just my makeup, I like doing and exploring different things, even if changing areas often gets progressively more difficult (a new learning curve each time) although still very rewarding.

In hindsight, it’s clear that my previous ‘reinventions’ were carried out in a fairly haphazard manner – I just got on with it (‘ignorance is bliss’). I’ve often thought there must be a better way. In this context I came across this insightful article by Saul Kaplan which is well worth thinking about if this sort of thing interests you:

Why aren’t we taught how to reinvent ourselves in school? Reinvention is imperative as a life skill. You would think we would at least be exposed to the fundamentals of personal exploration and reinvention while we are in school. Instead we seem increasingly focused on the skills necessary to get a specific job, a job that is highly unlikely to exist five years from now. As a society we highly prize specialty education pathways that track students toward narrow career choices instead of celebrating education pathways emphasizing a broad platform and skill set useful in doing future work that doesn’t exist today. Education and workforce development programs should emphasize foundational life skills that are transferable and enabling the personal confidence and skills to constantly reinvent ourselves.

Reinvention is a journey not a destination. It doesn’t have to be a scare word. You don’t have to know what you’re reinventing yourself to in order to work on reinventing yourself. It isn’t about stopping one thing in order to do or be something else. It’s about spending time every day, every month and every year constantly reinventing. It’s about personal R&D to explore and test new possibilities. It’s about experimenting all the time to uncover latent opportunities. It’s about continuing to strengthen our current selves while simultaneously working on our future selves by actively engaging in new ideas, environments and practices. You don’t have to stop doing what you’re currently doing you just have to allow yourself the freedom to try more stuff.

He then goes on to give a list of 15 practical ways to help ‘build your reinvention muscle’. It’s interesting that I already do most of them so I guess that’s a built-in character trait.

However perhaps the main point is the thinking about it all the time and trying some small experiments in new directions rather than waiting until you’re totally fed up and desperate for a sudden change (or worse, when a change is forced upon you).