WIRED and Ad Blockers

I get it,  the site makes its money off the ads. I rarely read their articles anymore. When I see something interesting, it surprises me that I do not read it anymore, so I click the link. Then they interrupt me reading to complain about having the ad blocker enabled. Trying to be a good person, I change the settings to allow the ads like they want.

Here is the kicker, though, they interrupt me again to say “Thank you.” That… That makes me so angry that I revert the settings to block the ads and close the tab. At that point I remember why I no longer read the site. I came to read not get prevented from reading. Just let me read.

Outage FUD

A gas pipeline running from Houston to New York had a break in Alabama over the weekend. My understanding is the owner has crews working to route around the problem. By the end of the week the flow should resume. Their second line for other fuels is apparently being used to help. The governor of my state declared a State Of Emergency in order to allow truck drivers to work beyond safe hours to ensure gas gets to places.

I hear of places running out of gas which I am sure fuels the panic. (Get it?) My guess is people scared of not being able to fuel up hit the gas stations over the weekend when the cars were at over half full. “Just in case.” In other words their panic caused a gas panic.

People’s fear of losing their money caused them to withdraw their cash out of banks caused banks to fail. People’s fear of not being able to get gas caused the fuel panics of the 70s. This is no where near that bad if the reports are correct. Just stay calm. Drive a little less. And get a hybrid.

Chaos of lists

I went to buy a book. There were a chaos of options in the used list at the same price. Because these were used, there were descriptions of quality headlined with:

  • Acceptable
  • Good
  • Very Good
  • Like New

All but new were represented at the cheapest price level. So naturally I looked through the very goods for the best described one. It felt more involved because I had to glance at dozens to find the 3 VGs. And re-check to make sure I had found them.

Being raised in libraries, it seemed to me like this needed an order tweak. It seemed like in addition to the existing order of lowest to highest, it should also order best quality to worst. So the first result is the cheapest price with best quality.

Then the behavior economist in me realized that the used book dealers would exploit that model. They would have a stronger incentive to inflate the quality of their book. Suddenly former library books they list as Good would find their way to Like New quality. Everyone wants the first spot because people are lazy and much more likely to buy the one there. If a seller wants to undercut competition by using a lower price, then that race to the bottom reflects supply and demand. When there are lots of books, buyers benefit by picking the cheapest.

Quality is a different animal. It is the area where buyers have to beware. Only the seller really knows the true quality of the item. The buyer only finds out upon receiving it. That kind of imbalance is where the free hand of the market tends to be tied behind its back. Sure, the buyer can complain and contest, but that really means buyers stop trusting this specific place and go elsewhere.

Easier is to take away the incentive to falsify the quality of books by putting the order random at the same price level. So my guess is that is why it is that way.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

In economics, a sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. For example, a business may have invested a million dollars into new hardware. This money is now gone and cannot be recovered, so it shouldn’t figure into the business’s decision making process.

… from How the Sunk Cost Fallacy Makes You Act Stupid.

The article goes on to describe common situations where we fall for it. The solution of making a pro and con list did not really impress me. Really, the solutions are:

  • Be willing to cut losses and run. The Cull and Surrender post is about being willing to cut out things not worth the time.
  • Actively expose mistakes to find. Embarrassment about being wrong or having made a mistake keeps us on the path of that bad place. On Being Wrong.
  • Act like the present is all there is. Past experience contributes to making a decision. But the present case should be handled as a new, independent situation and not a continuation.

Re-Imagining Work

Guess Drive made me think about happiness at work more.

How can we get people more engaged, more productive, and happier at work? Is technology part of the problem — and could it also be part of the solution?

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the full, empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open, collaborative and flexible working culture.

If the embedded video below does not work, then try RSA Animate – Re-Imagining Work.

Motivation 3.0

A recent event reminded me I should read Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. I picked it up in August to read, but since my copy is a hard back the Georgia heat would warp it, so I left it forgotten in the bedside table. So here I am, thoroughly enjoying it.

My 2009 post TED Talk: Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation is about his discussion of the ideas covered in the book. It one of my favorite all time TED Talks. RSA produced an animated video for a similar talk on the same topic.

Rewards improve performance for mechanical tasks. They malfunction when the tasks require rudimentary thinking. These extrinsic motivators are what Pink calls Motivation 2.0. We need to look at Motivation 3.0 where intrinsic motivators drive performance. They are:

    • Autonomy – urge to direct our own lives
    • Mastery – urge to get better and better at something that matters
    • Purpose – urge to do participate in something larger than themselves

Recently I lamented about how I may have profited from Specialist Culture, employees who are technically gifted or great in their fields don’t have to consider how their behaviour or work affects anyone. (Source: The Toxic Workplace) The benefit of being considered an expert in a rock star team? We suffer less compliance and receive more autonomy so we can self direct ourselves to mastery and take on the projects that give us purpose. I realized for most of my career I have had great amounts of autonomy. Supervisors pointed me at the problem, provided a vision of the end result, and let me go at it. That is a tremendous trust even for a 19 year old that I guess I earned. (Surprising.) Also, these supervisors provided me valuable instant feedback on my work.

Perhaps the history of being treated this way is why I treated the student assistants I supervised this way. Also, losing autonomy at my prior position and the way that frustrated me was a huge factor in my being poached away to my current position. Anyway, this stuff will continue to be a part of my thinking both in how bosses treat me but especially how I work with teams. An interesting question is how to arrive at more areas of the organization to achieve the same?

Trickle Down Economics

Today the United States Government went into a partial shutdown. Also, I happened to have lunch with employees of the Georgia State Archives. (The past couple weeks I have worked on helping with working out the kinks of their move to the Board of Regents information technology infrastructure.)

The restaurant where we ate appeared to my eye to seat easily over a hundred people. And normally on a Tuesday would be on a wait. Several in our party wondered why it was less than half full. One finally realized no one in uniform was present. Fort Gillem sat less than a mile away and this restaurant was a popular lunch destination for those who work there. About 1,700 employees are civilians, so 90-95% of them are probably furloughs for this shutdown. I suspect the reservists and active-duty personnel whether working or not realize they are not getting paid until this resolves, so going out to eat is probably something they will stop.

Government employees like their private sector equivalents spend money to have a life. They support local economies. These jobs trickle down.

Though, I wonder about the studies estimating the economic impacts of universities on their areas. One of these days I will actually need to read one of them and look at the methods.

How the shutdown affects those who depend upon the business of government employees is the disappointing message missing from the media stories I hear.

TED Talk: The riddle of experience vs. memory

We tend to think of memory the same as an audio-visual recording of the events in our life. Unfortunately, it is not. Memory captures snapshots which influence what we recall later. So a relatively good experience with a particularly bad ending can bias memory to recall the whole as bad.

If the below video does not display, then try Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory.

TED Talk: How to buy happiness

If this is right, then money can buy happiness. The problem we create for ourselves is spending the money on expensive things we like. Happiness may come through spending money to help others. Look at charity giving statistics by people in the United States. I hope though as people discover things like Kickstarter, people find funding small projects makes them feel good as well.

If the above video does not work, then try How to buy happiness.

Fee or Discount

In this day and age, I find it surprising enormous corporations have not figured the difference in the perception of a fee vs a discount. Adding a fee causes consumer uproar. They feel the faceless no good bully is trying to make money unfairly. Even people who probably will avoid ever paying the fee on grounds feel it takes away an option. In the aftermath of the consumers taking to social media and winning against the big banks, this is not the right time for a corporation.

The way to change consumer behavior is to provide a discount for the option you want them to pick. A $1/month discount ($12/year) for customers who routinely pay through non-automatic payments options for them switching probably is enough to get most to change.  They feel like they gained something by doing so. Fair probably would be to give the same discount to those already using automatic payments, but I could see only offering the discount as encouraging the problem customers.

In the Verizon fee case, they wanted customers to setup automatic payments so they will not miss payments as often. It is good for both sides. Consumers are more likely to avoid late fees or service interruptions. Corporations will get a steadier flow of money from the consumers. A $2 fee to continue making one time payments was exactly the wrong way to encourage the correct behavior.