I write for many different reasons and with different objectives. One of the recent struggles I’ve been having with writing is to be able to convey depth of analysis and value of those ideas and insights to my target audience. I’ve traditionally always pondered deep and hard about various matters but did not necessarily structure my ideas properly.
While my role as a consultant helped significantly in terms of creating structures for my analysis, I need to get better at putting together the pieces of analyses not in the order by which they are done but in a manner than gives a compelling story and call to action for the audience. To put it simply, this is actually a life skill to develop that everyone and anyone can benefit from having. It is more about storytelling and bringing out the story with various mediums and different ways.
It is also a reminder that my training as an artist during my high school days were not wasted. Those were the times when I had to not just deliver a piece of art work as an end result but to document and share that process. Documenting the process may not be enough to really give a clear view of how one arrives at the outcome of a particular art work. It takes quite a fair bit of storytelling. That means filling in gaps, building bridges across different moments and different intermediate ideas, even seeing these intermediate moments that one can use to make the bridges connect.
Ideas are great but if they’re not put together with a good story, flinging those ideas around haphazardly is not useful. The poise and elegance of those ideas emerge through the stories that we tell.
Economics assumes that people respond to incentives. And that requires some degree of rationality. Yet the interesting thing is that rationality is just perhaps one form of value function where we frame certain incentives as the metric that the agent is interested in and values. Revealed preference theory basically assumes rationality to pin down the preferences of people based on the choices they make.
Yet if we adopt the idea that there’s a value function, then rationality doesn’t even have to hold for the notion – that economic agents respond to incentive – to be true. Because if someone is “mad”, then it may just mean that he or she has a certain value function that lacks certain features or patterns which are consistent.
So it could be that their value function are not monotonic when mapped to specific features of a product or experience. This is to say that they may like their noodles to be extremely soggy or extremely hard, but not in-between. So to some extent, their value function is a U-shape when map on the extent of noodle sogginess. This type of ‘inconsistency’ can be seen as lacking rationality when it comes to certain money-based decisions. But mathematically, they can always be described and simply opens up more ways we can analyse these problems.
This is the first time I utter this two words that don’t really mean anything but definitely not the last time. I started a podcast (yes, finally!) and it’s called Mondo Gondo. I picked those words because it rolls off the tongue well. And it’s probably a whitespace in the minds of people what it could mean.
So yes, Mondo Gondo. It’s like a trip into my mind. I’ll be ranting, riffing, ideating, and mostly talking. I wished I could ramble but I designed them to be concise and <15minutes pieces. One of the requirement I have for myself is that they must have some ideas (not answers, just ideas) to make things better.
And why did I do that? Because it’s always worth taking action that allows each and everyone of us to step into a future that we all want to be in. At least one that I’d like to be in. So yes, a podcast. With some show notes here. And thank you in advanced for listening.
Tiger Woods look like he’s really in deep trouble; James Surowiecki traces the reason how Tiger Woods’ image is going down with the scandals and gave a thorough analysis on how the image of these celebrity figures are tied to products and firms they endorse or act as the public face for.
He even did a follow-up on his New Yorker blog to highlight the trouble Woods got into with the different firms and brands linked to him. He decided that Woods’ image is quite wrecked for the professional sponsorships from non-golf related stuff would probably cut back quite substantially.
John Cassidy did another analysis of what went wrong for Tiger Woods in the entire episode and explains why Tiger Woods need to get back into Professional golfing fast – assuming he’s able to maintain his focus and discipline.
It’s been a while since ERPZ featured any Lifehack Tools and lately, I’ve found quite a lot of useful stuff so it would be great to share with readers and GTD enthusiasts.
Dropbox – File sharing/synchronization, online storage tool. Extremely useful for people with multiple computers and files to be shared between them.
Macheist – Mac Community that raise funds for charity and give you lots of great Mac Ware at amazing prices (sometimes free too).
Ninite.com – Multi-Apps installer; allows you to choose from a list of important “must-install” applications to be installed all at once on your computer. Especially useful when you just get a new computer or formatted your PC and want to have your favourite softwares installed fast.
Growl – Mac Notification tool, it’s basically an alert programme that seamlessly integrate with your mac and several other popular programmes.
Picnik – In case you haven’t realised, there’s are web-based image-editing tools and Picnik just happens to stand out particularly because it is speedy and extremely user friendly.
Quicksilver – It’s not easy to describe what Quicksilver does exactly but it’s basically a graphical shell that allows you to perform stuff on your Mac more quickly.
A while back, I was writing about LVMH because they were featured in a briefing on The Economist. One of the strategies that were highlighted in the article was Louis Vuitton’s effort in researching customer flows in malls:
In 2005, when Maurizio Borletti, owner of several prominent department stores in Italy and France, was preparing for the opening of a refurbished La Rinascente department store in Milan, he recalls, the Vuitton people built a scale model of the building in their offices to understand customer flows and get the best positioning. “In this they’re the most professional in the industry,” he says.
The design of Iluma is definitely pretty interesting; with all the glittery looking stuff on the building surface, some kind of balcony on the middle floors and fancy looking glass doors that looks as though they weigh a ton but opens automatically (at least some of them). The outside main entrance area, there are 2 escalators; one leading from and another leading to the second level of the building. The interior of the building is big, and the ground floor is capable of holding lots of people in the middle, perfect for events and normally used for cart-stalls giving it a bazaar feel.
There’s another pair of escalators there, leading to the fourth floor directly. Wait a minute, fourth floor? Yes, it leads you directly to the fourth floor, by-passing the second and the third, which totally explains why it’s hard to get crowds within the building to go to the shops on the second floor. The pair of escalators inside the building that leads to the second floor is absolutely hidden from the crowd standing in the middle of the interior of the building. Some pictures of the interior will help you see why. Even when it takes about 40 seconds or so to reach the end of that long escalator, it’s fun enough to attract people to hit that level where a bunch of other cafes awaits.
The Coffee Bean will largely have to rely on people entering from the escalators at the front main entrance for business (come on, who takes the lifts these days?). On 13 December when 8-Days Magazine was having their 1001 issue exhibition, people who are naturally drawn to the ground floor interior of the building will probably not take that escalator and so the crowd they anticipate at their cafe will probably not manifest. The only people who might patronize them are those who came over to Iluma via the newly built link bridge from Parcos Bugis Junction and unable to find the escalator that will lead them down to the center of activity at the ground floor…
The customer flows in malls are pretty important in this sense, the location of the escalators, the entrance/exits, the link bridges and the placements of your signboard. That will all be before your staff’s attitude. Studying these flows before you rent out a space in a mall is going to make a whole load of difference to the destiny of that shop/unit.
I finally found a copy of Edward De Bono’s Lateral Thinking, published in 1970s. It collects his earlier insights about Lateral Thinking and reflects his more original ideas about the subject. The books he published much later are more or less repetition of these earlier ideas, presented in alternative means – some acting as encouraging creativity, others at simplicity of thought and some plainly about motivation and happiness.
I’m not exactly a fan of De Bono – I think he exploits his authority in the area of lateral thinking pretty well and have managed to set himself apart from the general ‘creative thinking’ bunch. I think his Six Thinking Hats programme made him quite a lot of money and his success in trying to frame his concepts into thinking in the business realm means more money. Still, he offers much valuable ideas that are untapped by the masses.
He highlights some problems with Vertical Thinking that we traditionally use to think about problems and perceive our world; these problems are intricately woven with the advantages of this system of thinking so the point is to be aware of these inadequacies and counteract them with Lateral Thinking. Here are some of the problems with our thinking system I would like to share and explain how they might impede us in our daily thinking:
1) Our thinking creates patterns that helps create an efficient system of memory that relies of amazingly few details to trigger the recollection of an entire experience. Unfortunately, they become established ever more rigidly since they control our attention; we’re constantly searching for patterns to fit into our experience to make sense of things. These patterns are also difficult to change once they become established.
This is the case of conspiracy theorists who see patterns in places people don’t and form elaborate theories of conspiracies even when they are just a series of coincidence. The pattern that these conspiracy theorists establish in their minds direct their attention to particular details that reinforce their beliefs in their theories. It’s difficult to convince them that their ideas are flawed.
2) Our system of thinking tends towards ‘centering’ (a term used by De Bono), which means that anything which has any resemblance to standard pattern will be perceived as the standard pattern. Because the information that is arranged as part of a pattern cannot be easily used as part of a completely different pattern, it is hard to change the way one perceive the same set of information to interpret them differently.
This is a case of stereotyping on steroids, best exemplified by the character Mr “Everything Comes From India” in the BBC Sketch Comedy, Goodness Gracious Me. Here’s an Youtube clip showing how he makes his arguments that frustrates his poor son.
3) There’s also marked tendency to ‘polarize’ in our system of thought, moving to either extreme instead of maintaining some balanced point between them. This implies that even when the choice between two competing patterns are very fine, one of them would be chosen with another being completely ignored.
Using the above example of Mr “Everything Comes From India”, we notice that his thinking is such that there’s only the two extremes of ‘Indian’ and ‘Not Indian’. He thinks little of the effects of globalization and the influence of culture on each other or the possibility of overlapping rituals between different cultures.
Finally, patterns that we accumulate can get bigger and bigger, resulting in declarations like, “There are only 2 kinds of people in this world…” People package a whole lot of individual patterns and lump them within a bigger pattern, that immediately trigger off other perceptions that are unreal or not observed. Of course, there are advantages to this system, with it’s roots in instinctive fight-or-flight responses when efficiency of generating a response is more important than producing a precise/correct response.
The idea is to know when we should make use of what sort of thinking. In pondering over important issues in life and generating ideas for a project and such, one should suspend our typical system of thought in favour of lateral thinking that has the advantage of proliferating more ideas even if they don’t appear to be quality on first impression.
Just a few days back I was discussing how we have to hold contradicting ideas as social science students; and it dawned on me that some students after training themselves to do just that, fails to make a judgment using the ideas. To them, it seems that everything is equally right and there’s no quantitative means of assessing which side is better. I hate to say this but then you actually have the power to decide what is right. After all, politicians, social scientist, economists and such are always at loggerheads and as I mentioned in that earlier post, no one is exactly right – at least we’ll never know what is truly right. We can only be sure of approximations to the right thing but then again there are high estimates, low estimates, depending on how things turn out.
The fact is we all make many decisions these way. There’s no way to know for sure that a plan will carry through and we have default positions, knowing all well what they rest upon and how they might change. We might wake up at 10am every Sunday Morning but then we adjust accordingly when we have appointments around that time on that day. You know that your priority is with the appointment and not with sleep; so unless your priority is the other way round, you’ll compromise. Likewise, when confronted with the question as to whether a Monopoly is harmful to consumers you might have to consider your priorities. You might be concerned with net transfer of wealth from consumers to the monopolist and thus against the theoretical supernormal profits. In that case you’ll argue that while the firm might be a natural Monopoly and the only one serving the market, it is harmful as long as it’s not taxed such that it only earn normal profits (with the tax revenue redistributed to the consumers).
On the other hand your sympathy might lie with consumer choice and welfare so you believe that as long as the monopolist exhibit some sort of dynamic efficiency, innovating and proliferating the market with variety then you’re fine with the Monopoly. After all, it is giving the consumers what they want that earn them the profits. But in an event when it becomes complacent and exhibits some sort of inefficiency (not in the P=MC sense though) then it needs some competition injected. Following that line of argument, some might choose to take side with competition right from the start and argue that as long as the market is a rather contestable market, with huge players ready and able to enter anytime (despite high barriers to entry), then the Monopoly need not be too closely regulated. The above arguments would all make sense and they could well be right answers for economics essays but then the question is whether you’ve presented your case convincingly by showing what are your priorities or principal considerations.
In other words, you do not make judgments when you’re analyzing or dissecting the ideas but when called upon, you’re able to demonstrate your principal concerns and judge the ideas in accordance to them. You should be comfortable with changing your stand when you adjust your judging guidelines and not cling on too hard to your positions. Karl Albrecht, author of Practical Intelligence believes that the open-mindedness so essential to learning and the path towards intelligence require this ability to see opinions/positions and separate from ourselves. So learn to pick up opinions from making judgments but readily drop them and learn to justify what prompted you to do so (new information input, changing circumstances, difference in judging guidelines).
Some students struggle with social sciences and humanities like Economics, Geography and History because they think they can’t hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and not take a side. Economist are somewhat famous for being able to do that and often criticized for being that way. As a matter of fact, humans are remarkably capable of doing that; we overrate our consistency of thought and the need for ideas that don’t contradict. When we demand scientific proofs for certain claims yet openly express faith in certain religious claims, we’re adopting contradictory frameworks of proof.
The reason why these subjects require that we hold contradictory ideas or for us to withhold judgment of these ideas is the lack of a proper quantitative approach to evaluating them. We might be able to come up with pros and cons but we are unable to assign a positive figure to denote the value and significance of the pro and a corresponding negative figure for a con and then evaluate them in an accounting matrix that will tell you which is better and how much better. Any attempts at that will be subjective and arbitrary anyways. As a result, it is important that students of these subjects hold on to them without judging but maintain the ability to dissect and analyse these ideas, zoom into certain features and investigate different aspects of it when necessary. More importantly, we’ll have to master our language and internalize the nuances of the typical jargons used in the field to discuss these observations we make.
As humans, we will definitely have preferences for some explanation over others as well as some outcomes over others and this is a reason behind all the disputes that social scientist usually have with each other, including high profile ones by economists. And worst, unlike sciences where there are experiments everyone can agree on to check their ideas and theories to discover ‘the truth’, the search for truths in social sciences have often ended in vain because of the dynamic nature of the field. Scientists might not agree before a discovery is confirmed (Linus Pauling, a super-Nobel laureate with 3 Nobel prizes famously believed that DNA’s structure should be a Triple Helix) but once it is confirmed, we find little delusional souls continuing with their false beliefs unless they are ignorant of the confirmation. Economics had its share of control experiments that happened in the world, often by chance. Unfortunately, they can never be repeated perfectly and their results are never agreed upon by experts in the field.
This is not to say that the subjects offer little value to the world; in fact the dynamic nature of these fields mean that there is always questions to answer and things to explore readily. And that is why we need more people to be able to hold different ideas at the same time and have different opinions on the same issue under different sort of circumstances and be able to see the world this way.