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22 января, 12:31

Long-term strategy: Don't be a jerk

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In the moment, when you have power, no matter how momentarily, how will you choose to act? Jerk comes from the idea of pulling hard on the reins, suddenly and without care. Horses don't like it and neither, it turns out, do people. More than just about anything else, what you do when you have the chance is what people say about you and remember about you. The community pays careful attention to the restraint (or lack of it) that you show when the opportunity arises. Whether you're a parent or a multinational, in the long run, the wheel is going to turn. It might be a minute, a day or a week, but your power is unlikely to last. When we assume that everyone is a volunteer and that all power is transient, it's easier to become the person we're proud to be. This is the essence of marketing--acting in the way you'd like to be seen and understood. Especially when you have the power to make choices.        

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21 января, 12:00

You can look it up

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Of course, for millions of years, people couldn't look it up. They couldn't read and they hadn't invented writing yet, so there was nothing to look up. All you knew was what you knew, along with what you could ask someone about. "Uncle Rock told me that the bark from this tree will help a headache." With writing came notes, records and books. And with a great deal of training and effort, there were things that you could look up. This is an unsung moment in human history, because it allowed knowledge to begin to compile, and enabled all sorts of longer-term transactions (including debt instruments). In the mechanical age of a hundred years ago, we got better and better at doing this at scale. Now there were millions of books, and card catalogs. But looking up most things was time consuming and often came up empty (as recently as twenty years ago, the only way to find something in a book was via an index, which certainly gave hints, but it lived only in the book itself). The current era of on-demand, widespread looking things up offers a whole new level of insight for those that care enough to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, most people don't.  Most organizations, most leaders, most scientists, most doctors... hesitate to look it up. We're not sure exactly what to look up, not sure of what we don't know, not sure of what might be out there. It still takes talent and time to find the right thing in the right place at the right time. The next frontier is already starting to happen. The system looks it up before we even realize it needs looking up. The system tells us that this resume comes with an anti-social online record attached to it. The system knows that these test results combined with that medical history is worth a deeper look. The system knows that this house was recently sold for a fraction of what's being asked... All of us are smarter than any of us, and when you throw in the us that came before, the opportunities multiply. But first, we need to care enough to want to know.        

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20 января, 20:21

Rights (and responsibilities)

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Human rights might be our species' greatest invention. More than phones or trains or Milky Way bars, our incremental progress toward dignity, opportunity and equality is a miracle. Rights aren't a decision we make when we're in the mood or it's easy. They're the bedrock of our culture, our economy and our way of life. Of course, they're inconvenient sometimes. That's precisely why we have to work so hard to defend them. Deep down, I think each of us understands how much a culture based on dignity is worth. But sometimes, we need to remind each other to stay vigilant, and to keep what our mothers and grandfathers worked so hard for.        

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20 января, 13:04

Everyone is better than you are...

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(at something). Which makes it imperative that you connect and ask for help. At the same time that we encounter this humbling idea, we also need to acknowledge that you are better at something than anyone you meet. Everyone you meet needs something you can do better than they can.        

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19 января, 12:25

How to be heard

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Do your homework. Show up with contributions and connections long before you bring your opinion. Save the snark for later. Pay your dues. Speak up about shared truths, shared principles and shared goals. Don't blame the ref only when the call is against you. Reflect back what you believe the other person is trying to say before you disagree with it. If you want to persuade on the merits, avoid joining the threatening mob. Convert six people before you try to convert sixty. Tell true stories.        

18 января, 11:25

How long is now?

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Yes, that dog is moving, but not that tree. Plants don't move. Well, yes, they actually do. Trees grow and then they decay. It's just that we can't see it happening now. It happens over a longer span. Which means it is happening now, just not in a way that matches our frame. Getting our time scale right is essential. It affects how we perceive the growth of our organization, or the changes in our planet. It changes the way we invest in education and how we react or respond to the news media. Do we need a sweep second hand on our wrist watch or merely a page-a-day calendar to mark the passage of time? Alan Burdick's new book goes into the history of how we think about now (as compared to before and after) and one particular example stuck with me: What would happen if we were creatures that lived for only 28 days? Or for 300,000 days? And if our attention span compressed or expanded along with that outcome? Often, people who are happier or more effective than we are are merely seeing things in a different (and more appropriate) time window. And one last example, I'll call it Dash's Twitch: It turns out that the insanely stressful ticker that the New York Times had on their home page on election night, the one that kept flicking back and forth, taunting everyone who saw it, was actually using "real-time" data that only updated a few times a minute.  Which means that the twitch was faked. Yes, the data was moving over time, but it wasn't moving now. If our now gets short enough, everything is a twitch. And twitches, while engaging, aren't particularly useful or productive.        

17 января, 12:56

Economics is messy

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We still teach a lot of myths in the intro to economics course, myths that spill over to conventional wisdom.  Human beings make rational decisions in our considered long-term best interest. Actually, behavioral economics shows us that people almost never do this. Our decision-making systems are unpredictable, buggy and often wrong. We are easily distracted, and even more easily conned. Every time we assume that people are profit-seeking, independent, rational actors, we've made a mistake. The free market is free. The free market only works because it has boundaries, rules and methods of enforcement. Value is created by increasing information flow and working to have as many contributing citizens as possible.  Profit is a good way to demonstrate the creation of value. In fact, it's a pretty lousy method. The local water company clearly creates more value (in the sense that we can't live without it) than the handbag store down the street, and yet the handbag store has a much higher profit margin. That's not because of value, but because of mismatches in supply and demand, or less relevant inputs like brand, market power and corporate structure. Profit is often a measure of short-term imbalances or pricing power, not value. I hope we can agree that a caring nurse in the pediatric oncology ward adds more value than a well-paid cosmetic plastic surgeon doing augmentations. People with more money might pay more, but that doesn't equate to value. The best way to measure value created is to measure value, not profit. The purpose of society is to maximize profit Well, since profit isn't a good measure of value created, this isn't at all consistent. More important, things like a living wage, sustainability, fairness and the creation of meaning matter even more. When we consider how to advance our culture, "will it hurt profits?" ought not to be the first (or even the fifth) question we ask. The price of a stock represents the value of the company. It turns out that the price of a stock merely reflects what a few people decided to trade it for today. Tomorrow, it will certainly be different, even if nothing about the company itself changes. There's very little correlation with how the traders come to value a company in the market and how much value a company actually creates. The only purpose of a company is to maximize long-term shareholder value. Says who? Is the only purpose of your career to maximize lifetime income? If a company is the collective work of humans, we ought to measure the value that those humans seek to create. Just because there's a number (a number that's easy to read, easy to game, easy to keep track of) doesn't mean it's relevant.        

16 января, 12:22

... and it bends toward justice

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The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends toward access. Twelve years ago, Acumen made a modest investment in Water Health International, a start-up that builds water purification hubs in small villages in India. Today, and every single day, 7,000,000 people have clean water as a result. ... and it bends toward dignity. Sixty years ago, it was still against the law for blacks and whites to get married in parts of the USA. And just five years ago, the same was true for gay couples ... and it bends toward healing. Catherine Hoke's team at Defy brings hope and high expectations to the incarcerated and those recently released. As a result, the rate of recidivism falls more dramatically than anyone expects. ... and it bends toward community. Jim Ziolkowski could have stayed in his secure job at General Electric. But instead, he went to Malawi and then Chicago and then to high schools in towns like yours. His work at BuildOn has transformed tens of thousands of students, executives and communities. ... and it bends toward helping the dispossessed. Lexi Shereshewsky saw the Syrian refugee crisis firsthand. And so she started the Syria Fund, which, while still small in scale, is mighty in impact. ... and it bends toward diversity. Willie Jackson couldn't find a magazine that spoke to him and to his generation. So he started one. ... and it bends toward responsibility. We're not pawns if we choose not to be. This is not the work for someone else. No one else is doing it for us. With us, perhaps, and as an example for what we can do, but we're not off the hook. History doesn't bend itself. But we can bend it. It's taken us 100,000 years to figure out that we are only as well off as the weakest ones in our tribe, and that connection and community and respect lead to a world that benefits everyone. The irony of Dr. King's holiday is that he surely believed that anyone could take on this calling, that anyone could organize, speak up and stand for justice. We can connect, we can publish, we can lead. Anyone reading this has the ability to care, and to do something about it. We have more power than we dare imagine. And so it bends.        

15 января, 11:07

Pavlov's in your pocket

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Why do people buy lottery tickets? It's certainly not based on any rational analysis of financial risk or reward. So, why do something that almost never seems to work? Because it actually works every single time. What it works to do is release a hit of dopamine, first when you think about buying one, then again when you decide to buy one, and then a third time when you actually transact. For regular players, these three moments of hope and joy demolish the sadness that comes from actually losing. It's a hope rush, for cheap. Well, the same thing is true for the billion people carrying around a Pavlovian box in their pocket. The smart phone (so called in honor of the profit-seeking companies who were smart enough to make them) is an optimized, tested and polished call-and-response machine. So far, Apple's made a trillion dollars by ringing our bell. Every time it pulses, we get a hit. Every time we realize we haven't checked it in two minutes, we get a hit. Hit, hit, hit. And again and again. The box vibrates, we feel hope and fear and our loneliness subsides, then we check, and we lose (again). But we are hooked, so we put the phone in our pocket and wait for it to happen again. Ring a bell?        

14 января, 12:15

How to make a sign

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There it is, at every entrance to the terminal at LaGuardia, one of the busiest airports in the world:  TERMINAL CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE between 12:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. until further notice. Ticketed Passengers & Employees ONLY will have access  to Terminal. A few questions on our way to fixing this: Who is it for? What impact will it have on everyone else? To the sign maker: Are you angry? Frustrated? Trying to teach people a lesson? What does it sound like when you read it aloud? and... is it clear? When I look at this sign, I wonder why it needs to say, "until further notice." After all, aren't all rules in place until further notice? And why say 12:00 a.m. when midnight is so much more clear? Do we really need to alert employees to this rule every day?  Mostly, though, the headline is confusing (every person reading this sign for the first time is sure the terminal is closed right this minute, until they read the next line). Perhaps, then, it might be a better sign if it said: Hi. To keep this terminal clean, it's closed to visitors from midnight until 4 a.m. every night. Ticketed passengers are always welcome. Thank you.  More on this from Dan Pink.        

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13 января, 12:38

Showing vs. telling

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All the promises, explanations and asides in the world pale in comparison with what you do. Too often, we forget that jargon and narrative exist to help shape our actions, not to replace them. Words keep getting cheaper, which makes action more valuable than ever.        

12 января, 12:14

But where did the algorithm come from?

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Imagine if the owner of the local bookstore hid books from various authors or publishers. They're on the shelf, sure, but misfiled, or hidden behind other books. Most of us would find this offensive, and I for one like the freedom I have (for now) to choose a new store, one that connects me to what I need. The airline tickets I purchased last week are missing. Oh, here they are, in my spam folder. Gmail blames an algorithm, as if it wrote itself.  That person who just got stopped on her way to an airplane—the woman who gets stopped every time she flies—the TSA says it's the algorithm doing it. But someone wrote that code. And as AI gets ever better at machine learning, we'll hear over and over that the output isn't anyone's responsibility, because, hey, the algorithm wrote the code. We need to speak up. You have policies and algorithms in place where you work, passed down from person to person. Decision-making approaches that help you find good customers, or lead to negative redlining... What they have in common is that they are largely unexamined. Google's search results and news are the work of human beings. Businesses thrive or suffer because of active choices made by programmers and the people they work for. They have conflicting goals, but the lack of transparency leads to hiding behind the algorithm. The priority of which Facebook news come up is the work of a team of people. The defense of, "the results just follow the algorithm," is a weak one, because there's more than one valid algorithm, more than one set of choices that can be made, more than one set of priorities. The culture (our politics, our standards, our awareness of what's happening around us) is being aggressively rewired by what we see, and what we see comes via an algorithm, one that was written by people. Just because it makes the stockholders happy in the short run doesn't mean it's the right choice for the people who trust you.