Archive for October, 2007

Influence a group: speak first, speak often

October 31, 2007

In a previous blog I describe how being the first person to speak (in a group) results in framing the ensuing discussion (Start the discussion, frame the discussion).

In this blog I describe how simply talking a lot results in influencing the group.

The following comes from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Suroweicki:

Talkativeness has a major impact on the kinds of decisions small groups reach.  If you talk a lot in a group, people will think of you as influential almost by default.  Further, talkativeness feeds on itself: the more you talk, the more you are talked to by others in the group, which causes you to talk more, and so forth.  So talkative people tend to become increasingly important over the course of a discussion.

Want to influence a group?  Be the first person to speak, and be talkative.

Do Rules of Polite, Civilized Behavior Apply at Work?

October 30, 2007

Unfortunately, what would be considered abusive behavior in families and other social relationships is accepted and even lauded in work situations more frequently than many of us might admit.

Some bosses bully, intimidate, and belittle others.  Underlings are expected to endure abuse that is condemned in other settings.  As the New York Times put it, “Every working adult has known one – a boss who loves making subordinates squirm, whose moods radiate through the office, sending workers scurrying for cover, whose very voice causes stomach muscles to clench and pulses to quicken.”

Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Characterizing “shallow thinker” versus “deep thinker”?

October 29, 2007

All of us have heard these expressions:

He has a shallow understanding of the subject” or “He is a shallow thinker


He has a deep understanding of the subject” or “He is a deep thinker

But what does it mean when someone says: “He has a shallow understanding of the subject” or “He is a shallow thinker

And what does it mean when someone says: “He has a deep understanding of the subject” or “He is a deep thinker

How does one determine if an understanding is shallow or deep? How does one determine if an individual is a shallow or deep thinker?

There is a negative connotation to the former. Being labeled as having a “shallow understanding” or a “shallow thinker” is not something to be desired. So it would be useful to know what these expressions mean.

I will now try to characterize shallow versus deep understanding and thinking.

1. Understanding the interconnectedness: few (if any) things live in isolation. Press here and it affects things over there, and they in turn affect things down there, and so forth. A shallow thinker does not fully realize the impact of a decision or action on other things. A shallow thinker just looks at first-order effects (i.e. “press here and it affects things over there”; that’s as far as the shallow thinker goes, he doesn’t continue with how “the things over there in turn affect things down there, and so forth”). Conversely, a deep thinker looks at the whole chain of impacts.

2. Read a book once and you have a shallow understanding. Read a book multiple times, take notes, summarize each key concept … now you have a deep understanding.

3. Many things have general characteristics. For example, Democrats are in general pro-life and the Republicans are in general pro-choice. Making a decision or judgment based on generalities is shallow thinking. Making a decision or judgment based on specifics is deep thinking. For example, judging a politician based on the party he belongs to is shallow thinking; judging based on his specific viewpoints is deep thinking.

How else would you characterize shallow versus deep understanding/thinking? I invite your (deep) thinking on this subject.

Start the discussion, frame the discussion

October 28, 2007

The order in which people speak in a group has a profound effect on the course of a discussion.  Earlier comments are more influential, and they tend to provide a framework within which the discussion occurs.  Once that framework is in place it’s difficult for a dissenter to break it down.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the people who spoke earliest were also more likely to know what they were talking about.  But there’s no guarantee that the most-informed person will speak first or will be most influential.

Start the discussion, frame the discussion.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

History: Big domestic mammals revolutionized human society by becoming our main means of land transportation

October 27, 2007

 I am reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.  At this point in the book he is talking about the role that animals played in enhancing the development of society:

Big domestic mammals revolutionized human society by becoming our main means of land transportation until the development of railroads in the 19th century.  Before animal domestication, the sole means of transporting goods and people by land was on the backs of humans.  Large mammals changed that: for the first time in human history, it became possible to move heavy goods in large quantities, as well as people, rapidly overland for long distances.  The domestic animals that were ridden were the horse, donkey, yak, reindeer, and Arabian and Bactrian camels.  Cows and horses were hitched to wagons, while reindeer and dogs pulled sleds in the Arctic.  The horse became the chief means of long-distance transport over most of Eurasia.

See what is general in what is particular and what is permanent in what is transitory

October 26, 2007

Consider how all events are interconnected.  When we see the lightening, we listen for the thunder; when we hear the wind, we look for the waves on the sea; in the chill autumn, the leaves fall.  Everywhere order reigns, so that when some circumstances have been noted we can foresee that others will also be present.

The progress of science consists in observing these interconnections and in showing with a patient ingenuity that the events of this ever-shifting world are but examples of a few general connections or relations called laws.  To see what is general in what is particular and what is permanent in what is transitory is the aim of scientific thought.

An Introduction to Mathematics by Alfred North Whitehead

Have you ever wondered why other people are so unreasonable and hard to convince?

October 25, 2007

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” [Leon Festinger, et al., When Prophecy Fails (1956)]

Have you ever wondered why other people are so unreasonable and hard to convince? Why is it that they disregard hard facts that prove you’re right and they’re wrong? The fact is, we humans aren’t wired to think very rationally. That’s been confirmed recently by brain scans.

Psychological experiments have shown that humans tend to seek out even weak evidence to support their existing beliefs, and to ignore evidence that undercuts those beliefs. In the process, we apply stringent tests to evidence we don’t want to hear, while letting slide uncritically into our minds any information that suits our needs.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Mankind’s journey from hunter-gatherers to coins as the instrument for doing commerce

October 24, 2007

Below is a diagram I created showing the evolution of mankind from hunter-gatherers to the development of coins as the instrument for doing commerce. I developed this diagram by combining information from these two fabulous books:

  1. Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  2. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

I find it so fascinating to think about a how one thing led to another, which led to another, and so forth.

Hunter-gatherers to coins

Group Polarization: radicalizing the viewpoints of a group

October 23, 2007

From The Wisdom of Crowds by James Suroweicki:

Sometimes when a group deliberates, extreme positions become less extreme (i.e. moderates).

Frequently, however, deliberation does not moderate but rather radicalizes people’s point of view. This phenomenon is called group polarization. Here are some examples:

  • If a group is made up of people who are generally risk averse, discussion makes the group even more cautious
  • Groups of risk takers find themselves advocating riskier positions
  • People with a pessimistic view of the future become even more pessimistic after deliberations
  • Civil juries that are inclined to give large awards to plaintiffs generally give even larger awards after talking it over

As a general rule, discussions tend to move both the group as a whole and the individuals within it toward more extreme positions.

Surviving in a world of $0.00 cost open-source tools

October 22, 2007

Instead of competing with open-source tools, IBM supported them.  For example, it deployed 600 engineers whose sole job was to contribute to Linux, and it actively supported the development of Apache and Firefox, the open-source browser that competes with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

IBM has predicted that open-source is going to win out in the end.  The company could spend resources developing competitive products but chances are they ultimately would lose out.  The open-source movement simply has too much momentum.

Rather than try to develop a competitive operating system in-house IBM supported the development of Linux, then designed and sold hardware and software that was Linux-compatible.  IBM is harnessing the collective skill of thousands of engineers working collaboratively worldwide, and at no cost to IBM.

Like IBM, Sun has opted to forego revenues from software sales in favor of making money on auxiliary services and hardware.  The price of software is rapidly declining to zero, and the big players are looking for other ways of making money.

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom