Archive for the ‘Book Summaries’ Category

Red Notice: A timely book to read…

July 20, 2018

One of the early advantages about retirement is finally having time to read books that have little or nothing to do with my courses…

First up: was Red Notice.  Recommended by my son, long before this week’s Russia events and reactions..

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This was an engaging read … and provides an interesting back-drop to the current Russia bruhaha…

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In a nutshell:

Browder was a brash, recently minted Stanford MBA who moved to Russia and built Hermitage Capital … a hedge fund that rose to prominence as the biggest foreign investor in Russian businesses.

Browder leveraged keen financial analysis to identify market anomalies and undervalued assets … and had brass balls, utilizing aggressive strategies against Russia’s oligarchs and Putin’s government.

Predictably, taking on Putin ended badly.

Browder – and most of his team- got out of Russia, avoiding incarceration and physical harm.

But, one of his lawyers – Sergei Magnitsky – was jailed by the Russians, tortured in an attempt to get him to turn on Browder, and eventually beaten to death.

Browder turned Magnitsky’s death into a human rights case against Russia … and was the driver behind the Magnitsky Act which banned the perpetrators from the U.S. – establishing a blueprint for other human rights violators.

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The biggest takeaways were Browder’s keen investment analyses … and his gross underestimation of Russian brutality against perceived enemies of the state.

No doubt about it … Putin is one mean & nasty dude…

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Update: For more detail, see today’s WSJ editorial Donald Trump, Meet Bill Browder

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Some people just shouldn’t vote!

October 30, 2014

Since we’re in the stretch run to an election …

Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder whether “one man, one vote” makes sense.

Polls routinely reveal that a majority of Americans have marginal knowledge of government, politics, and political issues.

Try this: ask folks to explain the difference between the Federal deficit and the Federal debt … ask them where the money money that funds, say unemployment benefits, comes from.

Jason Brennan is a young prof at MSB … his research is at the nexus of ethics and politics.

He has written an insightful book called The Ethics of Voting

image

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Here’s the  essence of Jason’s argument …

(more…)

From The Numerati … the biology of personality

May 27, 2014

Ken’s Take:  Don’t blame me ! My personality is derived from my body chemistry.

DNA Helix

Here’s the scoop …

(more…)

Summer Read: The Numerati

May 27, 2014

The Numerati, Stephen Baker, Haughton Mifflin

Ken’s Take: I read it so you don’t have to.

I was really excited when the TV show “Numbers” launched.  Being a quant guy, I thought the concept of solving crimes by using math analysis had a ring to it.  Disappointment set in (for me) when they started focusing on the characters and their relationships instead of the numbers.  Oh well.

Math overwhelming man

I was equally as excited about the prospects for The Numerati … and about equally as disappointed.  Nice topic, but way too superficial.

The central premise of the book is good: prolific data accumulation (including mucho private data), integration of massive data sets, high speed data access and processing, sophisticated statistical models and data mining algorithms, and an increasing number of uses and users … is making all facets of life more and more numbers based.

* * * * *

Specifically, Baker provides some anecdotal examples of numbers-in-use:


 

  • In the financial markets: credit scoring by bankers and credit card companies started the snowball rolling …
  • In the workplace: some companies are already trying to derive behavioral profiles of employees that can provide insight re: how to motivate them, which teams to assign them to, and how to build a leveragable database of employee skills and interests.
  • In the store: some retailers are combining market research behavioral, and financial information to more closely target products and promotions ..  think of it as loyalty carding on steroids with a dose of customer profitability management.
  • In politics: the Chicago machine controlled precincts, the Bushies went after “values” segments and swing voters, and the Obama folks micro-targeted and “rolled up” using social marketing methods (e.g. Facebook, Tweeter).
  • On the blogs: some companies routinely scour the population of blogs to find references to their products that can be consolidated into a real time view of how the products are being perceived.
  • In the war on terror: neural data networks are processing a constant stream of information and electronic communications, hoping to spot behavior patterns that might provide an early warning of potential terrorist activity …  think “Patriot Act”
  • In the doctor’s office: electronic medical records appear to be gaining traction, providing docs with real time access, distributive capability (i.e. sending the info to other docs), and “evidence-based” analysis of best practices.  The looming questions: scalability and privacy.
  • In the heart: mate-finding sites (e.g. E-Harmony) are getting increasingly sophisticated – using behavioral and deep-psyche info and concepts to make the perfect matches.

Bottom line: For businesses, quant analytics used to provide a competitive edge.  Now, they are required just to compete.

For individuals, kiss privacy good-by and expect to be increasingly targeted with customized products and promotions.

“These statistical tools are going to be quietly assuming more and more power in our lives.  We might as well grab the controls and use them for our own interests.”

* * * * *

Some people just shouldn’t vote!

September 13, 2012

Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder whether “one man, one vote” makes sense.

Polls routinely reveal that a majority of Americans have marginal knowledge of government, politics, and political issues.

Try this: ask folks to explain the difference between the Federal deficit and the Federal debt … ask them where the money money that funds, say unemployment benefits, comes from.

Jason Brennan is a young prof at MSB … his research is at the nexus of ethics and politics.

He has written an insightful book called The Ethics of Voting

image

The essence of Jason’s argument is that all adult citizens have the right to vote … but that they shouldn’t exercise that right unless they are informed, rational, and aiming for the common good.

More specifically, he argues:

“If a citizen has a right to vote, this means at minimum that she ought to be permitted to vote — no one should stop her or deprive her of the vote — and that her vote must be counted.

However, if citizens do vote, they must vote well, on the basis of sound evidence for what is likely to promote the common good.

That is, in general, they must vote for the common good rather than for narrow self-interest.

Citizens who lack the motive, knowledge, rationality, or ability to vote well should abstain from voting.

Some voters are well informed about what candidates are likely to do.

They know what policies candidates endorse and whether the candidates are sincere.

They know the track records and general trends of different political parties.

Other voters are ignorant of such things.

Another way voters vary is in their degree of rationality .

Some voters are scrupulously rational, while others are irrational.

Some have patently stupid beliefs.

[Some citizens] are politically engaged, but they are nonetheless often ignorant of or misinformed about the relevant facts or, worse, are simply irrational.

Though they intend to promote the common good, they all too often lack sufficient evidence to justify the policies they advocate.

When they do vote, I argue, they pollute democracy with their votes and make it more likely that we will have to suffer from bad governance.”

* * * * *

Ken’s Take: An interesting perspective that has been constantly on my mind during this election cycle.

At least read the sample chapter … book is available in paperback at Amazon.

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Flashback: The original “Built to Last”

January 25, 2012

One of  Obama’s SOTU themes last night was jacked from the book Built to Last by Jerry Porras and Jim Collins.

I wonder if any of O’s speech writers have either read the book  or, at least followed up on the companies cited in the book (list below).

I did, and guess what?

Built to Last has been roundly criticized because many of the companies it profiled have subsequently faltered.

According to FastCompany:

Within 10 years of the book’s publication, almost half of the visionary companies on the list have slipped dramatically in performance and reputation, and their vision currently seems more blurred than clairvoyant.

At least 7 of BTL’s original 18 companies have stumbled (8 if you’re cynical about HP)

Each has struggled, and all have faced serious questions about their leadership and strategy.

Odds are, none of them today would meet BTL’s criteria for visionary companies, which required that they be the premier player in their industry and be widely admired by people in the know.

Jim Collins – one of the authors – counters that “The book never promised that these companies would always be great, just that they were once great.”

That makes more sense.  Obama isn’t saying that his America is going to become great (again) and stay great …. just that it once was great.

Now, that’s something to rally around….

* * * * *
Here’s Collins and Porras’ BTL List
… draw your own conclusions.

3M
American Express <= TARP
Boeing  <= NLRB target <= a good thing (unless you’re Team O chasing them)
Citigroup <= TARP
Disney  <= struggling since Cap Cities acquisition
Ford <= least bad U.S. car company
General Electric  <= TARP
Hewlett Packard  <= CEO turnover
IBM
Johnson & Johnson
Marriott
Merck
Motorola  <= corporate break-up
Nordstrom
Philip Morris (now Altria)
Procter & Gamble
Sony  <= lost its mojo
Wal-Mart  <= evil empire

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We’re all “special” … yeah, right.

February 18, 2011

Our parents told us we were special.

But, we all knew they were just doing their jobs.

These days, “awards proliferation” is picking up where mom and dad left off … confirming that we’re all special.

In “Everyone’s a Winner,” sociologist Joel Best concentrates primarily on America’s self- congratulatory culture.

Everywhere the author turns his gaze—from bumper stickers that boast about “my kid the honor-roll student” to boosterish “employee of the month” awards — Mr. Best sees a proliferation of prizes that seems to arise from a desperate desire to exclude fewer and fewer people from the winner’s podium.

Literary prizes are now given for every kind of category, including 12 different kinds of detective fiction recognized by the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar awards. The nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (nominations themselves are awards) have recently doubled from five to 10, and the number of Grammy awards given out last Sunday night came to more than 100. Valedictorians were once unique; now some high schools have dozens.

The tendency to create social subsets in which we may be recognized for “excellence,” in Mr. Best’s view, is also evident in the explosion of rankings and “best of” lists in recent decades—including everything from colleges and plastic surgeons to car-repair shops and hamburgers.

Such prizes and rankings …  are often self-created and thus abundant.

One question that Mr. Best does not address is whether the many winners among us actually believe our own hype.

Martin Chuzzlewit noted long ago that many of us think we are among “the most remarkable people in America.”

WSJ, Why We’re All Above Average, Feb.16, 2011.

From The Numerati … the biology of personality

August 4, 2009

Ken’s Take:  Don’t blame me ! My personality is derived from my body chemistry. 

Perhaps, this is how marriage blood tests should be applied …

* * * * * 

From: The Numerati, Stephen Baker, Haughton Mifflin, 2008 

In the late 1990s, researchers began looking into the biology of personality: the genes, neurotransmitters, and specifically, the hormones.

A theory emerged at four different hormones — estrogen, testosterone, dopamine, serotonin – mold personalities.

People with lots of dopamine are likely to be “Explorers” — optimistic risk takers. Explore issues words like excite, spirit, dream, fire, and search. Explorers have a tendency to fly off in different directions the minute they get bored. They get into relationships fast, wonder how they got there, and then try to weasel their way out.

Serotonin breeds “builders” who tend to be calm and organized and work well in groups. Builders have a tendency to talk about law, honor, limits, and honesty. Builders like to keep finances in order, map out vacations, and make sure the cats get their latest battery of rabies shots.

People brimming with testosterone — two thirds of whom are men — our “directors”. They are analytical, logical, and often musical. Directors focused largely on the physical world and over use words like aim, measure, strong, and hard. They also talk a lot about “thinking.”

People high in estrogen are at the “negotiators.” They are verbal and intuitive, and a good people skills. Negotiators talked about links, bonds, love, team, and participation. Negotiators are smooth talking, problem solvers who patched together friendships.

* * * * *

When it comes to relationships,

  • Negotiators gravitate towards directors, and vice versa.
  • Explorers are attracted to negotiators.
  • No-nonsense builders are often drawn to explorers, who helped them “lighten up.”

* * * * *

From The Numerati … the biology of personality

August 4, 2009

Ken’s Take:  Don’t blame me ! My personality is derived from my body chemistry. 

Perhaps, this is how marriage blood tests should be applied …

* * * * * 

From: The Numerati, Stephen Baker, Haughton Mifflin, 2008 

In the late 1990s, researchers began looking into the biology of personality: the genes, neurotransmitters, and specifically, the hormones.

A theory emerged at four different hormones — estrogen, testosterone, dopamine, serotonin – mold personalities.

People with lots of dopamine are likely to be “Explorers” — optimistic risk takers. Explore issues words like excite, spirit, dream, fire, and search. Explorers have a tendency to fly off in different directions the minute they get bored. They get into relationships fast, wonder how they got there, and then try to weasel their way out.

Serotonin breeds “builders” who tend to be calm and organized and work well in groups. Builders have a tendency to talk about law, honor, limits, and honesty. Builders like to keep finances in order, map out vacations, and make sure the cats get their latest battery of rabies shots.

People brimming with testosterone — two thirds of whom are men — our “directors”. They are analytical, logical, and often musical. Directors focused largely on the physical world and over use words like aim, measure, strong, and hard. They also talk a lot about “thinking.”

People high in estrogen are at the “negotiators.” They are verbal and intuitive, and a good people skills. Negotiators talked about links, bonds, love, team, and participation. Negotiators are smooth talking, problem solvers who patched together friendships.

* * * * *

When it comes to relationships,

  • Negotiators gravitate towards directors, and vice versa.
  • Explorers are attracted to negotiators.
  • No-nonsense builders are often drawn to explorers, who helped them “lighten up.”

* * * * *

Summer Read: The Numerati

August 3, 2009

The Numerati, Stephen Baker, Haughton Mifflin, 2008

Ken’s Take: I read it so you don’t have to.

I was really excited when the TV show “Numbers” launched.  Being a quant guy, I thought the concept of solving crimes by using math analysis had a ring to it.  Disappointment set in (for me) when they started focusing on the characters and their relationships instead of the numbers.  Oh well.

I was equally as excited about the prospects for The Numerati … and about equally as disappointed.  Nice topic, but way too superficial.

The central premise of the book is good: prolific data accumulation (including mucho private data), integration of massive data sets, high speed data access and processing, sophisticated statistical models and data mining algorithms, and an increasing number of uses and users … is making all facets of life more and more numbers based.

* * * * *

Specifically, Baker provides some anecdotal examples of numbers-in-use:

  • In the financial markets: credit scoring by bankers and credit card companies started the snowball rolling …
  • In the workplace: some companies are already trying to derive behavioral profiles of employees that can provide insight re: how to motivate them, which teams to assign them to, and how to build a leveragable database of employee skills and interests.
  • In the store: some retailers are combining market research behavioral, and financial information to more closely target products and promotions ..  think of it as loyalty carding on steroids with a dose of customer profitability management.
  • In politics: the Chicago machine controlled precincts, the Bushies went after “values” segments and swing voters, and the Obama folks micro-targeted and “rolled up” using social marketing methods (e.g. Facebook, Tweeter). 
  • On the blogs: some companies routinely scour the population of blogs to find references to their products that can be consolidated into a real time view of how the products are being perceived.
  • In the war on terror: neural data networks are processing a constant stream of information and electronic communications, hoping to spot behavior patterns that might provide an early warning of potential terrorist activity …  think “Patriot Act”
  • In the doctor’s office: electronic medical records appear to be gaining traction, providing docs with real time access, distributive capability (i.e. sending the info to other docs), and “evidence-based” analysis of best practices.  The looming questions: scalability and privacy.
  • In the heart: mate-finding sites (e.g. E-Harmony) are getting increasingly sophisticated – using behavioral and deep-psyche info and concepts to make the perfect matches.

Bottom line: For businesses, quant analytics used to provide a competitive edge.  Now, they are required just to compete. 

For individuals, kiss privacy good-by and expect to be increasingly targeted with customized products and promotions.

“These statistical tools are going to be quietly assuming more and more power in our lives.  We might as well grab the controls and use them for our own interests.”

* * * * *

Summer Read: Liberty & Tyranny by Mark Levin

July 24, 2009

Liberty & Tyranny, Mark Levin, Threshhold editions, 2009

13 weeks as #1 on the NY Times best seller list  … w/o a NY Times review or author appearances on mainstrean TV

Ken’s Take: A tightly argued case – he’s obviously a (former) lawyer.  Not much new news for card-carrying conservatives.  I recommend the book for liberals – not because it will change your minds, but because it’s an efficient synopsis of conservative thinking. Know thy enemy.

* * * *

Highlights

Levin is constitutional scholar and former lawyer turned conservative radio talk show host.  He’s quite animated on his show, so I was surprised that his book was very thoughtful.  In summary, it lays out the body of conservative logic, tying it back directly to the Constitution.

He basic thesis is that liberal progressives – who he refers to as “statists” —  consider the state (i.e. government – especially the federal government) to be supreme.  Constitutional conservatives – he argues – consider the individual to be supreme.  Preserving the rights of individuals is liberty; subordination of the rights to the is tyranny.

So, Levin argues:

For  rights bestowed from a higher authority (i.e. God)  — because the Constitution says so.

For faith, arguing that the establishment clause doesn’t foreclose mean that religion must be hidden and dismissed.

For states rights, saying that (1) the Constitution was meant to limit federal jurisdiction (2) that the diversity of wants, needs, and means requires it, and (3) that ‘mobility’ among locales let’s citizens situate in places most compatible with their interests (e.g move to Florida if you don’t like income taxes)

For the free market, arguing that it is the economic mechanism that promotes self-worth, self-sufficiency, shared values, and honest dealing.

Against taxes, except those that generate the revenue required to support the government’s constitutional activities (e.g. defence & security).

Against “enviro-statism” (e.g. cap & trade), asserting that the costs are usually far understated – for example, banning DDT eliminated a carcinogen, but also caused the incidence of malaria to re-surge and cause millions of deaths – especially in undeveloped areas.

For legal immigration, but against illegal immigration, including citizenship by birth,  “chain” immigration (i.e. spousal citizenship), and sanctuary cities.

Though Levin offers a list of remedial actions  — his Conservative Manifesto – it’s composed mostly of the usual list of suspects.  Ideas that caught my eye are: term limits for judges (vs. lifetime appointments), sun-setting all Federal agencies (i.e. require that they be reestablished each budget cycle), and replacement of the current income tax system with a “fair” or flat tax.

* * * * *

Summer read: Catastrophe by Dick Morris

July 14, 2009

Catastrophe, Dick Morris, HarperCollins, 2009

Morris is a former Clinton adviser turned conservative pundit. For each of the past couple years, Morris has penned a bestseller castigating the direction and tactics of liberals. Catastrophe – a pretty well researched and documented book – continues in that tradition.

Among Morris’s targets in this book are:

  1. The way that team Obama is using the economic crisis to push through a social agenda.
  2. The division of America into a minority (i.e. out voted) taxpaying class, and a majority tax taking class.
  3. The ineffectiveness of the Keynesian-inspired, pork-laden stimulus package.
  4. The prospects for runaway inflation when the economy recovers and the country is left with a bloated national debt.
  5. The reluctance of businesses to invest the time that they are being vilified, that pure craps are changing the rules with no notice, and when the federal government is intervening in private businesses — picking winners and losers, imposing punitive taxes and upending bankruptcy law.
  6. The failure of the bank bailout programs – TARP and TALF – to increase the supply of credit to businesses.
  7. The failure of the various mortgage plans to stem the tide of foreclosures.
  8. The looming fire-aim-ready health care program that is being pushed through Congress — that increases the demand for health services by covering more people with health insurance, but does nothing to increase the supply of services, i.e. the number of doctors and care facilities.
  9. Initiatives to boost Democratic voting rolls, including: amnesty for illegals, expansion of unions (via card check), and “management” of the 2010 census.
  10. A weakened stance on terror, evidenced by a broadening of terror suspects’ rights, the closing of Gitmo, and a general softening of both rhetoric and defense capabilities.
  11. A diminution of support for Israel.
  12. Congressional cronyism, quid pro quo, and pay to play.

At length, Morris documents Pres. Obama’s apparent strategy of political control:

  1. Build on his rock solid support among blacks
  2. Expand the Hispanic population by amnesty and loose immigration laws, and by using expanded health care benefits as a “carrot” to attract even more Hispanic immigrants.
  3. Expand union coverage via card check and UAW-like sweetheart deals including, perhaps, exclusion from any  taxes that may be imposed on employer-provided health care insurance.
  4. “Cook” the 2010 census to overstate his solid constituencies.

For regular news readers and news watchers, there is little new in Morris’s book. But, there are plenty of facts, specific examples, and references.

Catastrophe is a quick read that – fr the most part – is worth the time for conservatives wanting ammunition for the next cocktail party.

* * * * *

Take the loyalty test …

July 8, 2009

From the summer read:
Why Loyalty Matters, Keiningham & Aksoy, Benbella Books, 2009

in prior posts, I highlighted 25 notable nuggets from the book and recounted the 10 Relationship DNA Factors (i.e “styles”)..

Here’s an acid test of loyalty:

Do your friends believe without a doubt that you convincingly demonstrate your loyalty to them? Specifically, do you

  1. Devote enough time to your relationships with them?
  2. Stand up for them when it is uncomfortable to do so?
  3. Celebrate their successes without envy?
  4. Support them during difficult times?
  5. Hold fast to information provided in confidence?
  6. Make every effort to carry out commitments to them, even when it requires considerable self-sacrifice?

Being truly loyal isn’t easy to do. 

Virtually all of us fall short in delivering true and comp,ete loyalty to friends and family.

The good news: there is always room for improvement.  Get started.

* * * * *

What is your relationship style?

July 7, 2009

From the summer read:
Why Loyalty Matters, Keiningham & Aksoy, Benbella Books, 2009

in a prior post, I highlighted 25 notable nuggets from the book.

In my opinion, the most useful part of the book was a relationship framework based on the notion that each of us has our own relationship DNA that serves as the code for how we interact with one another. 

While  no two people are identical in how they connect with others, all are made up of the same 10 basic building blocks:

  1. Leadership
  2. Reliance
  3. Empathy
  4. Security
  5. Calculativeness
  6. Connectedness
  7. Independence
  8. Traditionalism
  9. Problem-focused coping
  10. Emotion-focused coping

Being high or low on a particular factor does not imply good or bad, since each factor has the potential to have both the positive and negative impact on our relationships, regardless of where one falls on the factor.

People have their own idiosyncratic relationship styles. We are able to build strong, loyal relationships with one another precisely because each of us is different. It is our differences that allow us to enrich each other’s lives.

* * * * *

Leadership is the ability to influence others to follow you voluntarily. Leaders have a general sense that they are in control of themselves and their surroundings, are motivated to achieve success, attain a comfort level interacting with others, and are not afraid to take risks. The leaders competitive spirit fuels ambition. Some people see this fortitude as a blessing; it alienates other people who see it as being too competitive and too aggressive.

Reliance describes how well a person trusts and attaches to people around him. Reliant people have a support web that is based on openness and accountability. They are willing to ask for help when it’s needed. Reliant people tend to have “deep” and long-lasting friends. People low in reliance usually try to solve problems autonomously without depending on others. They often have difficulty building long-term relationships.

Empathy is the ability to identify and sympathize with others. Empathetic people tend to have a more flexible outlook and appreciate people for who they are. This brings with it more friendliness and is inviting to others. Empathetic people are compassionate, kindhearted, and understanding. They see problems through the eyes and hearts of others. People with  low empathy create distance between themselves and others.

Security is a general sense of stability and comfort with oneself and one’s environment. It’s a feeling that things are going well and there is no need to worry excessively or be anxious. This leads to life with a lower amount of stress and pressure, and prevents being needlessly encumbered by a sense of the impending. Secure people are able to manage anxiety and stress successfully. Insecure people often feel “on the edge”, and think that things are either wrong, or are going to go wrong. Insecurity leads to worry.

Calculativeness is an attempt to control and promote one’s self image and create an ideal environment for personal benefit. Calculating people place importance on showcasing themselves in the right way.  So, they have an air of formality in their interactions, selectively articulate themselves to others (versus “being themselves”), and tightly control their self-presentation. Calculating people are often viewed as contrived, less sincere, and less worthy of complete trust. They are often perceived by others as unemotional and manipulative.

Connectedness is how one interacts with others on a personal level  Close and tight relationships typify the crux of this dimension. The feeling of connection to others forms the basis in the bedrock of happiness. People low in connectedness may be loners, or may be surrounded with casual friends — lacking deep and intense bonds.

Independence is marked by autonomy, self-discipline, and thoroughness. On the upside, independent people are rarely disappointed by others, since they usually take matters into their own hands. But, they often miss out on valuable opportunities by failing to capitalize on other people’s ideas and strengths.

Traditionalism reflects a desire for consistency, normalcy, and regularity. Traditionalists like to operate within their comfort zone, and are cautious when approaching truly unfamiliar situations. Traditionalists rarely flaunt their successes, instead preferring humility. As a result, they may sometimes be underrated and underappreciated. Of course, traditionalists miss out on new experiences that could potentially provide novel perspectives and excitement.

Problem-focused coping is taking a planned, reasoned and rational approach to solving problems, meeting challenges, overcoming obstacles, making choices, and withstanding the consequences of decisions. Problem-focused people dissect issues and examine them from multiple angles. They are sometimes viewed as coldly analytical and callous in their decision-making.

Emotion-focused coping tries to suppress or manage the emotions surrounding a problem, rather than the problem itself. Often, advice and comfort is sought from others.

* * * * *

Next up: The “Are you loyal? “ checklist.

* * * * *

Summer read: Why Loyalty Matters

July 6, 2009

Why Loyalty Matters, Keiningham & Aksoy, Benbella Books, 2009

This book positions itself as presenting “the groundbreaking approach to rediscovering happiness, meaning, and lasting fulfillment in your life and work.”  While the book falls short of that tall order, it did contain some insightful material,.

The central thesis of the book:

Loyalty binds us together as people, grounds us on principle, and breeds happiness.

Though a lack of loyalty is one of the major causes of failure in every walk of life, our culture seems to have decided that loyalty is an old-fashioned and unimportant virtue.  That’s wrong and needs to be fixed — the sooner, the better.

Below are 25 nuggets that I highlighted in my reading.

* * * * *

Ken’s 25 Nuggets from Why Loyalty Matters

  1. Being loyal is the manifestation of the deliberate choices we make in life.
  2. Loyalties are signs of the type of person we choose to be. They are the foundation of our character. They demonstrate what we value, what we believe, and what we want our world to be.
  3. Historically, loyalty was not optional. Ostracism represented the ultimate disgrace. A disloyal society was considered a selfish society.
  4. The world has shifted from a society of many deep, long-term loyalties to a society of  fleeting transactional relationships and ephemeral contacts.
  5. A Turkish proverb says “show me your friends, and I will show you who you are.”
  6. Loyalty differentiates friends from acquaintances. Loyal friends won’t abandon us when our need is the greatest..
  7. In a world of easily shifting loyalties, we are likely to find ourselves surrounded by a churning group of fair-weather friends.
  8. “It’s easy to get people to come to a party.”
  9. “A passion for the new quickly wears off, and the old shines through.”
  10. Close, supportive, connected relationships make for happiness, and people have fewer of these relationships today.
  11. Oprah says: “lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
  12. Loyalty is the hallmark of strong relationships and demands sacrifices. Few people will admit that they are not loyal; fewer believe believe that they are surrounded by loyal friends. Typically, we believe we are far more loyal than the recipients of our loyalty believe us to be.
  13. The dream of being a rebel who rejects the conventions of society will always hold some appeal in our imaginations.
  14. Real  loyalty endures inconvenience, withstands temptation, and does not cringe under assault.
  15. 25% of Americans report having no close friends in which they could confide things that are important to them. On average, a person has only 2 close confidants.
  16. Friendship =  loyalty, honesty, respect, trust, perseverance, intimacy, help, support, shared experiences.
  17. In this electronic age, some people build synthetic identities and environments. Their real lives and real friendships can’t compete with their fantasized virtual worlds. So, basic values and common humanity get diminished.
  18. Challenges to our self-image make us uncomfortable. But, “you cannot see the picture when you are inside the frame.”
  19. “Most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasure of illusion.”
  20. Society cannot function and relationships cannot last if betrayal is the readily selected, probable outcome to every perceived grievance, disappointment, and inconvenience.
  21. Loyalty should never be unconditional. If your loyalty to a relationship influences you negatively, then the relationship is “toxic.” While it may be repairable, sustaining  in its current form will damage you.
  22. There is a difference between self-worth and self-absorption. Narcissism causes some people to devalue loyalty, by conveniently defining supreme loyalty as being loyal to one’s self. That is not a virtue!
  23. Loyalty requires a commitment to the future. When we fail, we must make every effort to restore what we have damaged.
  24. To forgive is not to condone.  In the end, forgiveness  may be needed to preserve a relationship. 
  25. Never, ever ignore your moral compass! Know the difference between right and wrong and adhere to it.

* * * * * *

Subsequent posts will ask the questions: what is your relationship style? And, are you loyal?

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Outliers’ KFS … find a satisfying job

March 24, 2009

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

The ingredients to a satisfying job:

Autonomy … “a long leash”, “room to roam”

Complexity … varied experiences, sufficiently challenging

[Meritocracy] … strong connection between effort and reward

The more you like your job, the more likely you are to succeed at it. [No kidding, Malcolm]

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Outliers’ KFS … Speak up if the plane is going to crash

March 23, 2009

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

Historically (until recently), Korean airlines have had a disproportionate number of major commercial plane crashes.

Gladwell says that it’s because flight crew members are too deferential to the captains and downplay or sugar coat information that they give them.  It’s called “mitigated speech” — a result of a culturally high PDI (power distance index). 

When a culture’s PDI is high, deference to authority figures is high.  So, subordinates are reluctant to speak up — even in a crisis.

So, instead of yelling “pull up we’re too damn  low”, a co-pilot might ask “are we on the glideslope, sir?”.  So, critical information is either not conveyed, is conveyed casually, or requires an extra analytical step (or two) for its importance to be decoded.  Valuable time is lost in the process — sometimes fatally.

The countries with the highest PDI are: Brazil, Korea, Morocco, and Mexico.

* * * * *

Important Note: the air lines in high PDI countries are aware of this dynamic (now) and train their flight crews accordingly.  So, not to worry.

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Outliers’ KFS … Spend your time off wisely

March 20, 2009

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

Generally, people conclude that U.S. schools fail miserably.  That’s probably true, but Gladwell found an interesting twist. 

Some Baltimore elementary schools gave students a battery of standardized tests in September to set a baseline and June — to measure accumulative school year achievement.

The general conclusion: roughly equal progression (from different baselines) for all students — regardless of their family’s income level.

The twist: researchers looked at changes from the June scores to the September scores — to measure retention or development during the summer vacation period.

What they found: at best, low income kids scored the same in Sept as they did in June — suggested limited development during the summer.  In general, higher income kids scored higher in September than they did in June — suggesting that their summer activities (reading, camps, classes, family trips, etc.) were constructively developmental.

Bottom line: students from lower income families would do better with a longer school year or more structured summer activities

Takeaway: Don’t waste your time off … think of it as valuable development time.

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Outliers’ KFS … be smart, but not too smart

March 19, 2009

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

Success requires intelligence plus personality plus ambition.  But, intelligence and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.  That is, high intellect doesn’t always translate into a greater likelihood of success.

Why?

First, because “general intelligence” does not assure “practical intelligence” … think book smart versus street smart.

[Often, people with high intellects tend to become linear logic specialists … that is, they may have vision, but not peripheral vision … they can connect the dots (convergence) but not think out of the box (divergence).]

Below a certain level of intellect, success is very unlikely.  But, there’s a “threshold effect” … if a person is just smart enough or talented enough to pass the qualifying threshold, then success is more a function of personality and ambition, moreso than incremental intellect.

Example cited: affirmative action law schools … some students may not have as high an intellect as others do, but they do well because they are “smart enough” to succeed.

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Outliers’ KFS … the 10,000 hours rule

March 18, 2009

This is one of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

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Gladwell’s Observation

Mastery of a complex skill doesn’t come easy orfast.  Given an adequate amount of talent, the magic number is 10,000 hours.  That’s how long it takes the brain to assimilate the necessary knowledge and habitualize a complex set of relevant tasks.

Examples cited: Bill Gates and his mastery of PC software; elite classical musicians; the Beatles (before becoming overnight sensations).

Note: a typical work year is 2,000 hours (8 hours per day times 5 days times 50 weeks) … So, it takes 5 years of dedicated full-time effort to become success proficient.

* * * * *

Ken’s Question: Tell me again how much relevant experience Obama had before becoming President ?

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Outliers’ KFS (Key Factors for Success) … Check your ‘born on’ date

March 17, 2009

This is the first of several posts extracting some key points from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, 2008

* * * * *
Gladwell’s Observation

When you’re born significantly impacts the likelihood that you’ll be successful.

On a macro level, outliers reach maturity in the early stages of a “transformational era”.  For example, Bill Gates was wildly successful, in part, because he caught the early wave of PCs.

On a more micro level, your specific birthdate matters because of “relative age”.  Many schools and sports have cut-off dates for admitting annual cohort groups.  For example, little league baseball leagues typically place kids in age brackets that run from Aug.1 to July 31.  Schools may require that a student turn 6 by a certain date (say, Sept.1)

Kids born right after a cut-off date have an advantage — they’re older.  At young ages, there’s a big  proportional maturity difference (physical & intellectual) between the oldest and youngest members of the cohort.  So, the oldest tend to outperform the youngest by a big margin.

And, the advantage tends to be an accumulative because early high achievers are often “steamed” or “tracked” — think fast reading groups and competitive travel teams — with their sub-cohorts getting more attention, more resources, and better teaching & coaching.

Generally speaking people born on the right date are beneficiaries of  more and more specialized opportunities to succeed.

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The Numerati – Drilling through the Data

September 30, 2008

Book review excerpted from WSJ: “Drilling Through Data”, September 15, 2008

* * * * *

The Numerati, Stephen Baker, (Houghton Mifflin

* * * * *

The world is buried in data, great banks and drifts of the stuff. In recent years a new technology has emerged: computer programs that will drill through it all to pick out patterns and trends — information that may be useful to marketers, politicians, employers, doctors, matchmakers or national-security analysts.

Such programs are extraordinarily sophisticated, and their creators — the “Numerati” — need to be very clever indeed. Using “data mining,” they seek out veins of useful ore in the mountains of facts that computers accumulate every day.

* * * *
In “The Numerati,” Stephen Baker offers a highly readable and fascinating account of the number-driven world we now live in.

He shows us, for instance, how political consultants, mining databases that track consumer and “lifestyle” preferences, sort us into tribes by behavioral proxy. Cat owner? Likely Democrat. NRA member? Probably Republican. Mailings and phone calls can then be targeted more accurately.

Health professionals, especially when treating older patients, are now monitoring such things as weight, body temperature and pulse by having a computer follow data streams from sensors on clothing or even from sensor-laden “magic carpets” laid around the house. Disturbing patterns prompt the computer to signal a problem.

The Numerati are taking over dating services, too. How do you find that special one in a million? By mining the data of the million. How do you improve your own chances of being found? By the same techniques that companies use to show up first in a Google inquiry — “search engine optimization,” now a flourishing industry.

The Numerati are even mining the output of bloggers, those stream-of-consciousness online diarists and self-promoters. “What makes the blog world especially valuable to marketers,” Mr. Baker writes, is “its unfiltered immediacy.” What do consumers think of your new product? What desires are still not satisfied by products of this kind? You can commission a poll or wait for the sales figures to come in . . . or you can read the blogs. Better yet, you can hire Numerati to write programs that will read them for you, since there are now more than 20 million bloggers in the U.S. alone.

* * * * *

Full article:
http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB122143747437734337.html

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Books – Predictably Irrational

September 8, 2008


Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
by 
Dan Ariely, HarperCollins Books, 2008

 

Basic Premise:

“Standard economics assumes that people are rational — that they have all the pertinent information about their decisions, that they can calculate the value of the different options they face, and that they are cognitively unhindered in weighing the ramifications of each potential choice”.  That is, that people are capable of making the right decisions for themselves. But, Ariey — and other behavioral economists — observe that “people are really far less rational than standard economic theory assumes.  Moreover, their irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They are systematic, and often repeated, so they are predictable”. For example:

  1. People tend to overvalue stuff that they own … it’s called the “endowment effect”.
  2. Ownership can be real & full, or virtual & partial (e.g. bidding for items on eBay)
  3. The sense of ownership is enhaced by “sweat equity” … the IKEA effect.
  4. Most people will opt for a mid-priced version of a product (over the high or low priced version) … it’s called “aversion to extremes”.
  5. A higher priced pill is perceived to relieve pain more than a lower priced pill … even when they’re the same pills — real or placebos.
  6. People can’t resist the power of free offers … even when they’re not really free.
  7. Many people will travel 15 minutes to save $10 on a $25 item (say, a DVD), but won’t travel 15 minutes to save the same $10 on a higher priced item (say, a car) … even though the time and savings are the same … it’s called the “relativity effect”.
  8. Many people will do jobs (“favors”) for their friends for free — as long as the task is unrelated to their “day job”.
  9. Many people who do favors for others are insulted if they are offered monetarycompensation, but willingly take small gifts for their efforts.
  10. Most people wouldn’t consider taking a few bucks from the petty cash drawer, but many people think it’s ok to jack a pen from their office.
  11. In experiments, most “tempted students cheated on tests … but there was an upper limit — they only cheated “a little bit”.
  12. Students who sign honor pledges on exams are far less likely to cheat … even if their school doesn’t have an honor code 

* * * * * 

The book is a quick, easy read, and the author has a cool web site:
www.predictablyirrational.com

 

I’ll cite a few of the book’s more interesting examples in subsequent posts.

 

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An HBS Mole Reports …

August 5, 2008

 

Excerpted from WSJ review of : Ahead of the Curve, Philip Delves Broughton (Penguin Press, 283 pages, $25.95)

 

Broughton had one of the most desirable jobs in newspapering …  quit and went back to school to study accounting  … at Harvard Business School.

 

He emerged with an ambivalence toward the HBS brand  … particularly the sense of entitlement for which its students and faculty are famous.  

 

Most graduate business schools, you might have noticed, award MBAs. HBS, according to the dean, specializes in “transformational experiences.” The dean says that  HBS grads reject so many routine job offers that of course recruiters are going to resent the school.

 

Broughton was prepared for the number-crunching nerdiness, the intense competitiveness and the unrealistically high levels of self-esteem.  “HBS,” he writes, “had two modes: deadly serious and frat boy, with little in between.”

 

The future titans of American industry celebrated … with  everyone … dressing as his favorite hip-hop star. … at another party, the men were to dress as women and the women as sluts. . . .

 

It is the other mode, the serious, non-frat-boy one, that the reader may find more disconcerting.

 

The jargon-choked faddishness and fatuous therapeutics of pop business books and the modern workplace have seeped into HBS too …  including New Age group bonding games and …a “personal development exercise” called “My Reflected Best Self.”

 

Even  Broughton …  shows signs of succumbing to a version of Stockholm Syndrome — a hostage identifying, if not with his captors. “I was happy I went.” He knows how to do a regression analysis, and he has learned how to make an Excel spreadsheet do everything but play canasta.

 

* * * * *

A study by a banking analyst tried to track the American equity markets in relation to the number of HBS graduates who chose to go to work in finance each year. If the figure was less than 10%, the market went up not long after. More than 30% and the market was headed for a crash. In 2006, 42% of the HBS grads went to work in finance. Right on schedule.

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Book Summary – Real Change by Newt Gingrich

June 21, 2008

 
Real Change: From a World that Fails to a World that Works
      by Newt Gingrich (former Speaker of the House)
  

Theme: activist citizenry must rise up to make government work … it won’t happen on its own due to entrenched (unionized) bureaucracies and power-hungry partisan political parties. 

Factoids & Interesting Points: 

  • It’s insane to the same thing and expect a different result (credit to Albert Einstein) 
  • Easier to be in the minority – just complain and object. 
    Majority must lead — come up with big ideas and implement them
     
  • Politicians are much better at campaigning than governing
  • Republican strategy: narrow partisan target. negative messaging, voter turnout … only works for a few campaign cycles … shrill messages eventually lose their edge and effectiveness … people can’t stay angry long enough 
  •  Democratic strategy: pander to small, specific activist segments, e.g. unions, environmentalists, who can only “win” with gov’t control and ultimately resist change to the status quo … leverage the money & visibility of the elites ( media, show biz, uber-rich) …problem: promises never materialize, mostly due to cost and ineffective government bureaucracies (waste & fraud)
  • More African-American males in prison than in college … for some, prison brings street cred … many inner-city entrepreneurs – they just operate outside the law 
  • In NYC, vice cops worked 9 am to 5 pm … drug dealers worked 9 pm to 5 am … since dealers wouldn’t change their work schedules, Rudy made the cops change their schedules
  • High school “on time” graduation rate less than 50% in Cleveland, LA, Miami, Dallas, Denver … 40% in NYC  … Baltimore lowest @ 38.5%
  • France does some things right: high speed rail, 80% nuclear powered electricity … and some things wrong: minimum work for maximum pay mindset
  • Over half of Americans own stock … over 8 million paid capital gains taxes in 2006
  • Social security tax rate = 12.4% (ouch) … split between employee and employer … currently capped at about $100k … Obama’s “tax & redistribute” plan: 12.4% from zero to $100k, and over $250k

Newt on Leadership (credit to Peter Drucker)

Values > Vision > Metrics > Strategies > Projects > Tasks

First, win agreement … then win the vote
Win agreement by saying “yes, if…” rather than “no, because …”

Reward the efforts & success of “contributors” … don’t penalize it 

Newt’s formula for change

Homeland security – the highest priority

English –  the official language … preserve American history & culture·        

Free market education: charter schools and vouchers … maybe even paying students for good grades
  
“Free choice” flat tax (17%) … eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends, pensions & social security, and death … allow choice to continue deductions system
   
Immigration: close the borders, guest worker program aggressive assimilation 
        
Trial lawyers, civil litigation: losers pay costs, class action limits
     
Direct ownership: homes, retirement accounts
        
Balanced budget: to force hard choices, eliminate earmarks & pork-barrel spending, cut future burden
        
Energy: drill here now, nuclear, incentives for renewables  

Heath care: more personal ‘choose and pay’ (vs 3rd party – insurers and gov’t) electronic records (e-prescriptions), personal responsibility – prevention, restrictions on trial lawyers 

Ken’s Take: Quick read … not much new, insightful, provocative
                             … borrow it, don’t buy it.