Archive for November, 2010

Area of Interest: The Masks We Wear

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Shelby Steele references the concept of “masking” in a recording discussing his book on Barack Obama. The process of “masking” is one in which the individual tailors a projection to an audience or situation. For example, when we interact with a family member we present a different version of ourselves, or mask, than we do when we interact with a used-car salesman. These masks are both defensive and offensive.

Steele’s speech contextualizes the masking from a racial standpoint and goes as far to argue that masking is an essential activity in “minority life.” While I do not disagree with this notion, I would argue that masking is a universal human activity and occurs in all human interactions.

Categories: Community, Society Tags: , ,

The Pareto Principle

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Under “the Pareto Principle”, 80% of the work is done by 20% of the workers. Sometimes called the 80-20 rule, the concept was developed from an observation by Vilfredo Pareto in which he noted that 80% of Italian land was owned by 20% of the population. Based on his observations it was later found to ring true in a number of different distributions. It has now been found to be reflective of global wealth, power and influence. History, it seems, has proven Pareto true.

But why is this the case? Is it a human need for simplicity or for focus? In terms of financial power, a corporation controls a market by most efficiently managing finances and, more than likely, selling the greatest number of products. Market domination is less about quality and differentiation and more about branding and the human need to belong. Interestingly we reserve an expectation of standardized experience with our brands and hold these standards up as both measures of taste of comparison. Though we do not expect the exact same taste of coffee in every cup or the same crisp in an apple we claim our Coke is better than Pepsi or that Pepsi just tastes better than a coke. Do we even really know? The real power at play is the brand and the “buying in” to a corporate message.

These forces are major players in continuing The Pareto Principle’s power. A more equal distribution of power and effort would be more fair but human nature is not interested in equality: we are instead interested in focus and simplification. Humans crave a single focus and will pool their resources into this focused source. Anything less lacks focus, is largely inefficient and proven incorrect by The Pareto Principle

“Buying In”

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton references the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s belief that the most efficient society is one in which each individual has a specific task. Such a system involves a division of labor and tasks that assigns to each person an individualized component and share in the process of achieving project completion. While theoretical, the concept reveals more about the psychology of the human as worker. When it comes to work, we use the opportunity to make a personal contribution as a gateway to invest interest and personal time. We refuse to simply do the chore and if presented with a situation in which zero personal investment is allowed will either distort our interaction to involve more involvement or complete the task with the least amount of efficiency.

Perhaps a result of our intellectual evolution, this need for personal involvement defines our entire employment system. We assert our interest in jobs by applying and then vocally express this interest and suggest potential contributions in an interview. These auditions set in motion a dual expectation: the employer expects us to make good on our claims and we, as employees are instantly aware of the gorge between claims and actions.

An ideal working environment is one in which this human need for personal involvement is celebrated. It is no surprise that the only real measure of quality office software is the level of interaction that it creates among colleagues. Nobody really cares that you use a nice font, when it gets down to getting the project done the program that achieves the end result is the program that gets picked. Managers and employees should recognize the need for personal involvement and create an environment where new ideas can be collected easily. A “mind dump” or area when all employees could post random ideas would function as a junk drawer of new ideas.

The battle against stagnation is one fought only with activity. Despite Pareto’s Principle that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the employees, the need for human interaction guarantees that the minor players are able to chirp up with new ideas and make the task of the 20% a more efficient experience.

Charity and Credit: Phantom Fantasies

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

In “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” Oscar Wilde writes that “charity creates a multitude of sins” and urges the reader to recognize the hazards of distorting reality. Wilde cautions us about our altruistic notions, reminding us that life is difficult and that pain is an important force in human progress. We forget this though, and despite the endless list of clich├ęs, fail to remember that it is pain that makes us move and inversely all human development comes from the need to respond. Who would ever move when one is happy? There is no progress in contentment.

Wilde’s essay has an important connection to the now global economic crisis. As we transition into a system of “austerity” Wilde’s essay can be utilized as an excellent rhetorical frame for our leaders. We live in a system where the narrative used to present material is in fact the most important decision a speaker makes and Wilde’s essay lays out the perfect frame for use.

When we reduce our public assistance we are not adopting a level of humility or cruelty. We are not disregarding the needs of the less fortunate. Instead, our work to eliminate debt and additional over-spending is simply a return to sanity. Credit is absurdity; it is the publicly accepted delusion that distorts the reality of capital and instills a system of phantom dollars and fuzzy feeling. A system using credit immediately injects emotion into the transaction and subjective emotions prove dangerous comrades in such waters. We cannot remove credit, but a significant reduction in its use will serve as an excellent tool to return to more realistic perspectives.

Of Cognitive Frames

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

There are no normal days for human kind. When we wake we evaluate our daily chores and prepare to make response. A day of travel means far different steps than a lazy Sunday held at home. If we’re busy we move faster. If still tired or still hungry we shift focus to pursuits to quench the need. We are immediate responders and recognize each given situation as an independent situation demanding an individual response.

I will call this perspective a “cognitive frame,” the mental perspective we utilize to view a task and plan a response. The cognitive frame is our lens into the situation. Each of us will view a situation with a different cognitive frame- for example the engineer will view planning for a bridge in a very different light than the line cook working midnights at Taco Bell. We use emotions and experience to prepare our response and create our cognitive frames from these interior factors.

As further complication, the variables of situation will also alter our cognitive frames. A given situation will have a different response if undertaken on separate days. Commutes to work on Monday are viewed with a very different cognitive frame than Friday’s journey homeward.

Assuming this is true, it is important that we construct our situations in recognition of these cognitive frames. Far more than simply adopting a positive attitude, our society must create situations in which positive cognitive frames are more likely to be deployed. This means varied education and opportunities to develop skills and knowledge so we have reference to utilize in future situations. I am reminded by the CCC of FDR’s era and the subtle power of “having work.” If employed we feel a sense of contribution and this positive energy trickles down to create a happier person whose happier home and family are directly connected to the chores that created the positive energy. We must recognize the need for work, the human passions and emotions that run beneath the facades of personality.

We need a job to do. Create chores and tasks that create cognitive frames from which future thinking can develop and personal development can occur. The greatest crime against an individual is failing to provide the opportunity for growth. Our cognitive frames are our tools to view the world- now is the time we dust the old frames off and take a look at how we need our chores no matter how tedious and seemingly useless.

The Importance of the Artificial Market

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

In a system where universal access is readily available it is essential to create a system of limited supply. Initial forays into the internet involved content creators lopping their work onto websites for free, unlimited access. No longer were the articles, videos and ideas limited to the paradigm of pre-internet limitations. With the web came the ability to be hyper-aware and content creators; perhaps from fear of being left behind, rapidly cast their work online.

And then what…

When everything is free only a moron pays. Why would anyone buy a newspaper if it can be read for free online. There are too many reasons not to buy the paper. Likewise why visit a movie theater? Why buy a book? Why would anyone buy an album when on a whim an artist’s entire catalog can be downloaded. There is a false perception that “the free” way is the right way. This is silly- creating a system of free leaves only charity as the force of attracting capital.

The correction to this system and model for future enterprises should be a controlled resource where only selective pieces of content are available for free. Best demonstrated by, material in high demand can only be accessed beyond a pay wall. Because it matters and has a resource they assert their importance and collect from those who benefit from the material. Doing so is not “big, evil capitalist”; instead its just smart business that allows for future work to be funded. It’s a simple game really: if A wants something from B, then A has to pay B. Anything else is either robbery or charity.

A better model uses the Disney mode of “market creation.” Disney only releases films from its collections at certain times. Updates, changes and additions appear at random intervals designed to spark audience interest and create a market. With new technological advancements Disney doesn’t update all of its content for public consumption. Such a system of automatic update and release eliminates public interest. Disney creates a limited supply and creates a system of demand that it can satiate on its own terms.

In order to create a viable market content creators need to assert this Disney-like artificial market. Creators need to recognize the inherent value of their work. Create an artificial market, allow demand to grow and satiate this need based on ability and strategic considerations. If Mickey gets it, so should you.

Unfortunate Reality Notes

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Humility hurts. In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton observes “in the meritocratic, socially mobile modern world, one’s status might now well be determined by one’s confidence, imagination and ability to convince others of one’s due.” He goes on to suggest that a failure to achieve personal life goals might be tied to a “pessimistic pride.” We all have to be Machiavellian; each of us must transform ourselves into swashbuckling professionals whose elbows whether digital or physical must always be locked in the abdomens of the competition.

How sad but true.

Re: “Teaching for America” by Tom Friedman

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

In his November 20, 2010 article, Tom Friedman makes the case for a new paradigm of teacher recruiting. Among his suggestions are a trio of critical student skills deemed essential by Tony Wagner of Harvard University.

  1. The ability to think critically and problem solve.
  2. The ability to communicate effectively
  3. The ability to work in collaboration.

As a core trio these are truly essential skills. How great is the challenge to acquire these skills? Friedman’s article gradually asserts the importance of better teachers and vigilant parents to guide their children to a better education. In light of these suggestions and the challenges associated with their inspiration, it is helpful to drill deeper and consider the root cause for these issues. In other words, I agree with Friedman’s suggestions but feel he has failed to properly consider the cause of these issues. Friedman notes the problem but let’s root out the causes.

Cause One: The need for better teachers.

How do we define a quality teacher? Herein lies the inherent confusion of locating quality teachers- we simply don’t have a rubric to define the concept. The use of test scores unfairly punishes teachers who work with less-skilled students. Evaluation on the quality or production (ie student learning) is ideal, but too often we compare Student A in the classroom with Students B to Z in the nation.Until we understand the definition of a quality teacher we cannot recruit better teachers.

In my mind a quality teacher is one who advances the individual student’s comprehension at the individual level. In my definition, each student exists in a bubble and is measured from year to year on the level of growth. The educator’s job is to advance that student’s level of interest in learning, understanding of material, or life functioning. Note the critical factor here: academic advancement is not the single measure of success. In my system, if an educator increases a student’s passion for knowledge or ability to function in society then a success has occurred and the teacher is a success.

Cause Two: The need for more vigilant parents

We exist in a society in which parents expect public education to craft a functioning member of society. While this is a function of the education system, the burden of responsibility is a shared one between government and parent. Both entities need the individual to function correctly and are charged with the task of crafting an ideal citizen. As a culture we need to recognize this shared burden and respond accordingly.

Culture change is hard, if not impossible. If as a society we shift our responsibilities from the individual to the government we launch our proverbial crafts on a burning river of disaster. We cannot function in a system and it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to establish these boundaries. A failure to lead establishes this system. Here again we find a lack of clear distinction. What is leadership?

Leadership is not the provision of supplies and support. Leadership is keen awareness and guidance. Modeled on our cultural archetypes, our ideal politician is more military general than charitable CEO. We are in need of support, but if we fail to recognize the realistic factors of our world we lose connection and distort our perspectives on the real. Fantasy land is fun but leads only to a tragic end.

A Call for Objectivism

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

We are a splintered bunch; our brains, just like our bodies branch out in random joints and directions. If we think with cold, emotional clarity we are thinking in objective terms. Freud suggested that we can never remove emotion from our decisions, but with an added awareness we can strive to dissect our reasons to reach a more rational perspective. This “level of rationality” is perhaps the best way to consider our decisions. If the fantasy of total objectivity is a polarized position than the opposite pole, total subjectivity, is a process of including as much emotion as possible.

Between these poles we slide back and forth. The impulse buy suggests subjective sways while the cold calculations of a dieter offer perspectives of the objective process. Often we recognize both poles by what is cast away- subjective thinking strives to avoid the extended considerations that delay response; likewise, the objective thinking discards the pleasure that an action brings. We cannot dedicate our brains to a single pole. We are both objective and subjective and benefit from this variety. This is a human need which not only defines us but provides us with a state of mental rigor that keeps life interesting and balanced.

Such polarization should not be extended to the creations of the human species. In our entities we need to avoid subjective thinking and focus solely on objective processes. We achieve this with the group-think, the combined mental power of a group’s membership drilling deeper on each impulse in order to decide if a decision is ideal for a situation. The most successful business is the one that best utilizes objective thinking. We must move only with a keen sense of reality and a reasonable perspective on the future into which we leap and the past from which we spawn.

Our government needs to focus more on objective thinking. Unfortunately the social role of leader, and creator of legislation and social guidance (the politician) relies solely on the wavering emotional status of the public. Even more difficult is the varied emotional states of the electorate, the constantly evolving state of individualized existence and the plethora of factors weighing in on the situation. Our most recent election remind us that our political figures are taken to task for factors beyond their control by an electorate unaware and indifferent to the objective facts of a situation.

Now is the time for more objective thinking. In our political leaders we need a dedication to quality performance for the public’s benefit. One must wholly disregard consideration of being reelected. The public does not know the details of the situation. Politicians need to do the best job possible, thinking objectively and responding in terms beneficial to the electorate, and establish clear lines of communication from elector and electorate to make this process easier and more applicable. Riding emotional waves will only establish bad laws established solely on half-baked notions of a gate-keeping media.

Beware A Bubble World

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The greatest danger that befalls the successful is a turning inwards and a disregard for outside perspectives. To some, a victory is a confirmation of perspective: I have majority of votes, a profit or critical praise. Such a notion is correct but bittersweet. If a politician turns away from the media and the public and “sets to work” he runs the danger of entering a bubble. Likewise, an artist who seeks to create an original creation may choose to avoid items that hold the potential to influence. He or she will look away from the network of inspiration. Success may come, inspiration may blossom but the connection to the society which established the roots of inspiration have been lost.

One must always maintain ties to the roots of inspiration. We strive to be original, to find a path to own own sense of the glory that awaits us. Perhaps it is a human move to dig down for greater focus. Be aware that closing eyes and ears is risky. Maintain the critical connections or face the horrors of returning to a world that has evolved.

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