Point / Counter-Point

13 August 2007

behavior good-enough

pablum_top.jpgYesterday, Seth Godin blogged about going beyond "good enough," if you're trying to do something extraordinary.

Today, WebWorkerDaily blogged about the joys of "satisficing" and settling for "good enough."

And my dad always says "the enemy of 'good' is 'better'," such that if you have something good, many times you screw it up by trying to make it "just a little bit better."

The Wikipedia even has a page on the Principle of Good Enough.

I'd do some analysis, but I figured providing the links was all that was necessary and sufficient.

Economics of Gold Foil Stars

02 April 2007

behavior economics

foil_star.jpgAs a youngster, I did the things normal youngsters would do. I went to school, church, camp, scout meetings. At all of these places, if I did what was expected, many times I'd get a gold foil star.

When you're very young, the gold foil star itself is the reward. Do something good, get a star. Awesome!

Look! I got a gold star!

You'd lick it and slap it on your chest. Or your forehead. Or your hand. You wanted to show off that star. The star was recognition of your accomplishment in stacking blocks or singing a song. You wanted others to see it and recognize your coolness, too. It was mostly a boolean thing; you either had a star, or your didn't.

A little bit older, and the teacher started keeping a chart, proudly displayed beside the chalkboard. If you received a star, you didn't get to keep it and paste it on your body, though. Instead, you'd march up to the chart, and put it in its place next to your name. The gold foil star had become a measurement of competition.

Dude, Todd, I've got 4 more stars than you do.

It might ultimately culminate in a party at the end of the year, or a special field-trip for people with enough stars on the chart. In the idea of inclusiveness, it's normally a threshold model with the bar set relatively low.

A few years further down the road of life and the gold foil stars advance to being a type of currency. It even has its own exchange rate involving select real-world goods.

I'll give you a star every day you finish your homework before dinner. If you have 20 stars, I'll take you to the store to buy a CD.

Work becomes measured by the number of stars received compared to the value of the items available for "purchase" with them. Ultimately, it's a parentally-constrained currency system with a very limited market.

While gold foil stars are easily counterfeited, the reality of living with the treasury department makes it impractical.

If you were king...

28 March 2007

behavior lifehack

KingOfHearts.jpgIf you were king, would you fire everyone, close the company, and open a donut stand tomorrow? If you were king, would you give everyone on your staff an extra week of vacation and a top-of-the-line iPod? If you were king, would you tell Microsoft to bugger off? If you were king, would you have your company invest in that scrappy little startup down the street?

"If you were king..." sets the mental stage differently than "if you were me..." or "if you were the boss..."

When you're talking with someone and ask for their opinion, they bring in certain constraints to their answer. If you ask them to imagine that they are the boss instead, they will bring in the constraints that they imagine the boss might have.

By jumping on up to imagining they are king, it breaks the habit of thinking within constraints.

Kings don't have to follow the rules. They can knight people. They can behead people. They get to wear fancy robes and carry a bejeweled scepter. Very few of us actually know any kings, so these four little words of conversational judo can help you think more broadly.

What would you do if you were king?

Ignorance of Crowds

19 March 2007

behavior family google social

This weekend, the wife suggested we go as a family to see the movie Bridge to Terabithia .

I'd never heard of it, so I googled using the searchbox in Firefox. I wasn't thinking very clearly, and just typed "road to ter" and up popped some suggestions:

Picture 9.png

Of course, the movie is named Bridge to Terabithia, not Road to Terabithia.

Enough folks have gotten this wrong that Google has decided to suggest leading me down the wrong path. If I actually pick one of the suggestions, perhaps I'll be encouraging Google to lead others astray. Plus, Google has provided positive reinforcement towards me thinking the movie is actually named Road to Terabithia, ensuring that my own ignorance is further cemented.

Thanks Google!

Of course, I spent 98% of the movie wondering why it wasn't called The Rope-swing to Terabithia.

On Blogging

03 February 2007

behavior blogging cats

BrianMy good friend Brian "I love a good tamale" McCallister apparently blogged about a blog entry that Hernri wrote about an IM conversation he had with Brian.

That's so meta.

They both made the point that they haven't enjoyed blogging because it felt like they were writing articles. It gets tiring sounding pedagogical all the time.

But when you blog about work all the time, and define yourself by the work you do, it's easy to fall into the CompSci Professor mindset. You learned something new or figured something out, and so you want to teach others. That's cool and awesome, but can wear you out after a while.

For the past while, I worked at an uber-stealth web 3.0 start-up. By definition, I couldn't blog about my job. I stopped blogging for a while. But the urge to write kept coming back. I had to instead focus it on non-work topics. Like music. Or random observations. Or mental musings on different ideas.

So, if you're finding it difficult to summon the will to blog, take a moment and look at your blogging habits. Have you historically been a "Java blogger" and written about things that somehow relate back to your work? Then go have a beer with a non-Geek friend, watch the sunset, have a good discussion. Then blog about that. Instead of trying to explain why nobody should use Ruby on Rails, try to make a similar argument as to why moe's new CD sucks.

Expand your domain. You are more than the job you perform. Your blog should be also.

When in doubt, just include a goofy photo or illustration to distract readers from the lack of content.

But try to avoid blogging about your cat. Nobody cares.

Book Review: Leadership & Self-Deception

23 January 2007

behavior books

EZbox.jpgWandered by the bookstore tonight, and picked up a few books from the business section. Sat down and read Leadership and Self-Deception from cover-to-cover. It is only 170 pages, and the idea could probably be boiled down into two dozen. But the presentment of the material was quite well-done and engaging.

The table of contents looks roughly like:

  1. Self-Deception and the "Box"
  2. How We Get in the Box
  3. How We Get out of the Box

The "box" is metaphorical (you can tell because it's in quotes). The "box" is a state of mind where you cease to really view other humans as humans but instead see them as objects. Objects worthy of blame. Objects that cause problems for you.

Most of us spend most of our time "in the box." We shake our fists at the idiot drivers who won't let us merge. We think our spouse is slacking in their duties. We think our children are irresponsible. We think of ourselves the most awesome thing since sliced bread.

And it all stems from us not doing the things for others that we know we should do.

While targeting business relationships, the book contains an example familiar to many families, to explain the concept of "the box". Here I paraphrase:

A husband wakes at night, hearing his infant crying in the other room. He thinks he should go tend to the child to let his overworked wife get more rest. Everything is good so far. For whatever reason, the husband decides to not get up and take care of the baby. This is where things begin to go awry. In order to justify the decision to not act as he knows he should, the husband begins to blame the wife. He begins to think about all the times he has gotten up. He thinks about the work he has to do in the morning. He thinks about how his wife is probably lying there, simply pretending to be asleep so he'll have to deal with the child. In a matter of moments, the man has gone from an "out of the box" mindset of thinking how he could help his wife, to demonizing her to justify his own inaction. His own self-betrayal has caused him to move to an "in the box" mindset, resisting his own wife as a human being. By choosing to not do the thing he knew to be right, he has betrayed himself. And thus he goes looking for faults in others to justify his behavior.

Clearly this is not good.

Now, imagine your own marriage, children, or coworkers.

Does blaming help the other person improve? Will it help them correct whatever fault you perceive? Or will it ultimately encourage the exact behavior you claim to find deplorable?

Ultimately, the bottom line is that we need to be aware that we are all jerks. And the way to stop being a jerk is to think of others are actual people.

The book was a good read, but I did feel that its 170 pages could have included a touch more practical advice. As it stands, it's more an inspirational book, rather than a toolbox or resource for adjusting your relationships.