Nonlinear Thinking

June 19, 2017

Examples of some nonlinear relationships (from HBR article below)

From an article in the Harvard Business Review:

“In recent years a number of professions, including ecologists, physiologists, and physicians, have begun to routinely factor nonlinear relationships into their decision making. But nonlinearity is just as prevalent in the business world as anywhere else. It’s time that management professionals joined these other disciplines in developing greater awareness of the pitfalls of linear thinking in a nonlinear world. This will increase their ability to choose wisely—and to help the people around them make good decisions too.”

The article discusses some simple examples that might crop up in a marketing scenario.

Whilst knowing the relationship between quantities, even qualitatively, may be difficult to determine in practice, simply being aware that nonlinearity may be important could be enlightening and suggest alternative ways forward.


Compound Productivity

June 19, 2017

Worth thinking what impact that little 1% change may lead to!

See here (in connection with money).


The Secret To Success Is Talking

May 24, 2017

From the Sunday Times (subscription required, so here’s an extract, published 7 May):

Becoming a billionaire could be really quite simple: make sure you receive no more than six work-related emails a day.

That, according to Sir James Dyson, whose family fortune has reached £7.8bn this year, is the secret to his success…

For Dyson it began 30 years ago, when he founded his vacuum cleaner company and banned staff from writing memos. He told them to talk to each other instead.

Even today he gives recruits old-fashioned exercise books and urges staff to use them in meetings instead of laptops.

He has built dozens of cafes at his work places “so people can have face-to-face communication. We’re creating things, working out how to sell them. You can’t do that on your own. You have to talk.”…

Perhaps it is a lesson for us all. If you log on and are faced with a screen of 300 emails, just remember: that is why you’re not a billionaire.

I knew someone in middle management who had a reputation for not replying to any email unless it was from someone of ‘significance’ (= on the Board of Directors and similar). Her view was that if it was really important someone would make contact with her, face-to-face or by phone, and they would sort things out that way. Oddly, she got away with this as everyone assumed she wouldn’t answer emails and so was only contacted when she was really needed and the matter was important! A natural filtering system. The rest of us had 300 emails a day to plough through. It would be interesting to know how many of these were actually of any real consequence (my guess is very few).

For another way to cull emails, see here.


The Verbal Landscape You Live In

May 17, 2017

Which one do you inhabit? At work and more generally. From a post by Seth Godin.


The Death of Expertise

May 4, 2017

I’m still suffering from bouts of insomnia but one of the odd useful side-effects is that I listen to all sorts of radio programmes in the middle of the night. Some are quite fascinating and I get hooked although I usually doze off before it finishes. Often I can’t remember the names or details of the topic, just that it was interesting but some fortunately stick in the mind.

A recent example was an interview with Tom Nichols, who is the author of a book entitled ‘The Death of Expertise’ (Oxford University Press, 2017). The book discusses the blurring of the lines between fact and opinion as a cultural trend. In the current climate (US Trump plus UK Brexit) this is especially relevant.

I’ve not read the book (although I’ve ordered it) but here are some extracts from a detailed review:

“He (Nicols) sees the longstanding (probably perennial) shakiness of the public’s basic political and historical knowledge as entering a new phase. The “Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers” is like a lit match dropped into a gasoline tanker-sized container filled with the Dunning-Kruger effect.”

“Nichols devotes most of his book to identifying how 21st-century American life undermines confidence in expert knowledge and blurs the lines between fact and opinion. Like Christopher Hayes in ‘The Twilight of the Elites‘, he acknowledges that real failures and abuses of power by military, medical, economic and political authorities account for a good deal of skepticism and cynicism toward claims of expertise.”

“But one really interesting idea to take away from the book is the concept of metacognition, which Nichols defines as “the ability to know when you’re not good at something by stepping back, looking at what you’re doing, and then realizing that you’re doing it wrong.” (He gives as an example good singers: they “know when they’ve hit a sour note,” unlike terrible singers, who don’t, even if everyone else winces.)”.

Note (see here): The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.

Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger attributed this bias to a metacognitive incapacity, on the part of those with low ability, to recognize their ineptitude and evaluate their competence accurately. Their research also suggests corollaries: high-ability individuals may underestimate their relative competence and may erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others.


Job Interview Hell

March 1, 2017

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Fortunately my days of giving and sometimes attending interviews are now past but I’m still interested in the process of how people get promoted, get new jobs etc. It’s a common topic when I get together with (younger) friends and colleagues. In my own experience most interviews have been reasonably civilised affairs, with both sides trying to achieve something informative and useful, even if the process is inevitably a bit fraught and artificial.

In this respect, I came across this set of ‘tough’ interview questions (originally gleaned from the careers website Glassdoor):

1. “What on your CV is the closest thing to a lie?” – Marketing and Communications Employee, The Phoenix Partnership

2. “What am I thinking right now?” – Regional Director, TES Global

3. “How would your enemy describe you?” – Advertising Sales Grad Scheme, Condé Nast

4. “If you had a friend who was great for a job and an identical person who was just as good, but your friend earned you £2,000 less, who would you give the job to?” – Associate Recruitment Consultant, Hays

5. “What’s the most selfish thing you’ve ever done?” – Graduate Consultant, PageGroup

6. “You are stranded on the moon with a group of other astronauts and you need to travel 200 miles back to base, here is a list of 15 items salvaged from the wreckage of the spacecraft you were travelling in. List them in order of importance.” – Sales Employee, Turnstone Sales

7. “If your best friend was here what advice would he give you?” – Central Clearing Counterparty, American Express

8. “Describe your biggest weakness. Then describe another.” – Forward Deployed Software Engineer, Palantir Technologies

9. “How do you cope with repetition?” – Product Specialist, Tesla Motors

10. “How would you describe cloud computing to a seven-year old?” – Graduate Scheme, Microsoft

11. “There are three people, each with different salaries, and they want to find the average of them without telling any of the other two their salary. How do they do it?” – Technical Delivery Graduate, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence

12. “Who is your hero, and why?” – Product Quality Employee, GE

13. “What’s your the biggest regret managing people so far?” – Area Director, Regus

14. “What would you ask the CEO if you met him one day?” – Performance Analyst, British Airways

15. “You have 50 red and 50 blue objects. Split these however you like between two containers to give the minimum/maximum probability of drawing one of the colours.” – Operations Analyst, Clearwater Analytics

16. “What does social justice mean to you?” – Content Marketing Manager, ThoughtWorks

17. “What is your coping mechanism when you have a bad day?” – Consultant, Switch Consulting

18. “Are you a nice guy?” – Product Manager, Badoo

19. “Provide an estimate for the number of goals in the premier league.” – Management Accountant, VAX

20. “Tell me about your childhood.” – Learning and Development Employee, Next

They are actually quite interesting questions, although hardly likely to be appreciated in the stressful atmosphere of a job interview.

For question 9, I’d be quite tempted to reply ‘Can you repeat the question please?’. Well, at least you’d then know if they had a sense of humour!


What If Technology Was Aligned To Your Values?

January 4, 2017

A series of three short videos on how technology could better align with your needs/values.