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The Law of Supply, Demand and Politics

1 April, 2011 (22:23) | Politics | By: Jack

When the supply of something vastly outstrips the demand for it many things happen. The number of possible choices for a buyer become unmanageable, even among items of equal quality. Prices tend to compress down against cost limits so that variations in price are small and cannot be used as a major factor in selection. Differences in availability also tend to disappear so that speed of delivery ceases to be a factor. The only basis left for a buyer’s decisions is the buyer’s desires and feelings. Selling into such a market requires the use of politics.

The job of a politician is to influence feelings and beliefs thereby influencing people’s actions. There are many specialized politicians. If the group of people being influenced forms a sports team, we call that politician a coach. If it forms a church, the politician is a preacher. If it forms a fighting force, the politician is a military officer. If the politicians entertain us and we can’t quite tell what action they are promoting, we can them artists. If the politician holds an office in government, we just call them politicians. Government politicians have a history of conducting their politics in ways that most of us find distasteful or even down right disgusting. As a result it is difficult to think of people that we respect as doing the same kind of work. None-the-less it is all politics.

Where the law of supply and demand can offer insight into the behavior of a market, the law of supply demand and politics offers guidance on how to react to a down market. If, for example, you are unemployed in today’s job market, the law of supply and demand tells you that it will be difficult to find a job and that when you do find one you may have to accept less money than you hoped for. The law of supply, demand and politics lays out the same scenario and then points the way towards what to do about it; apply politics. The self-help materials on career search agree. They encourage you to word your resume carefully. They tell you to cultivate a professional appearance. They coach you on how to speak with confidence. They guide you in the methods for researching a company’s culture and language so that you can appear to be one of them. They insist that you nurture your network so that you can reach out to people inside the company and gain their support for picking you as the chosen candidate. These techniques are nothing more than the art of politics.

Art is in fact the primary tool of politics. Feelings are most readily influenced by well chosen words, images, behaviors and related arts. The coach’s pep talk, the preacher’s sermon and the politician’s rhetoric all serve the same purpose; they inspire the listeners to take the actions promoted by the speaker. Appearance, gestures, postures and relationships all come into play in the art of politics. In most respects, politics is simply applied art, and that is the practical reason that the arts are in school curricula. There are of course teachers of the arts that would protest that the arts have inherent value on their own terms without reference to their applications. That, however, is a foolish stance and one that has enabled the claim that the arts are of no practical value and has caused the reduction of arts budgets in schools. The arts are an essential survival skill in an increasingly political world. If they were understood as such, they would be on an equal footing with technology and the sciences without having to appeal to abstract concepts.

Elite colleges have understood this for some time. Their application process selects students with political ability. Part of the reason for this criteria is that the demand for entrance into elite colleges has been increasing and they are as subject to the law of supply, demand and politics as anyone. Rather than allow the political aspects of their admissions process to slide under the table, they have made it explicit and have turned political training into an educational goal of the secondary schools, all without ever mentioning the word politics. They have done it by first making it known that good grades are not enough. They then insisted that students be well rounded which when translated implies that they have been active in every opportunity imaginable. They then require evidence of civic engagement as evidence of support of causes that the college has deemed important. Often they also require glowing letters of recommendation as evidence of ability to form supportive relationships. While there are certainly students that meet all these standards, in my experience there are not very many. The majority of students are therefore required to stretch their political abilities towards instilling a belief that they are close enough to the ideal to be admitted. In most respects this has been a brilliant strategy. They have redirected an influence that could have corrupted their admissions process. They have quietly forced secondary schools to include political training in their curricula. They have encouraged students to develop skills that they will need to prosper and in doing so have created the potential for generous contributions to their endowments in the future. Moreover, they have managed this without making it known that they are engaging in and supporting politics since that would be unseemly.

In summary, when the supply of something far exceeds the demand, the selections are based on politics. This may sound like a bad thing, but politics is not a dirty word; it is just the process that controls how people behave in groups. When supply and demand are badly out of balance, life works better if you have a little politics on your side.

Prejudice Is Inherent in Living

26 November, 2010 (12:07) | Philosophy | By: Jack

It seems that prejudice has become a cardinal sin, although I am not sure why. All of us carry a bit of it in one form or another. Our expectations of the future are inherently based on our experiences of the past and those expectations often crystallize into prejudice. In fact, without a depth of knowledge it is impossible not to fall back on hearsay and rules of thumb in dealing with unfamiliar circumstances. The only other alternative is to blindly trust that all circumstances are benign unless we have proof to the contrary, and in my experience that is a dangerous stance.

Consider that most universities publicly condemn the more heinous forms of prejudice like racism and sexism, but they privately promote their own more subtle form of prejudice. A careful look at any university’s promotional material suggests that the underlying reason for getting a college education is that in doing so a person gains a presumption of competence. The elite universities are more extreme. They promote the idea that their degree will some how make a person better than their peers; after all they must say something to justify their extraordinary cost of attendance. Clearly the basic idea is that a college graduate should be prejudged as competent and given opportunities denied to others. For some reason, we all accept this concept and see no conflict with the broader condemnation of prejudice. What is particularly interesting is trying to determine which side of the conflict is in error, or if either is.

Consider for a moment the proposition that people are somehow improved by a university experience and that they emerge from the experience with new and desirable attributes. Is that true? In absolute terms, I would have to say no. As a metric of personal attributes, a college degree is subject to both false positives and false negatives. I have known a number of people that were incompetent in the field of their degree. I have also worked with people that were highly competent with no degree at all. In more relative terms, my answer is different. As a credential, a college degree is a relevant if not absolute indicator of personal qualities. On average, people that have earned college degrees are more capable, knowledgeable and motivated than people that lack degrees. If you are looking for people with particular skills, restricting your search to people that have degrees relating to those skills will probably reduce the effort required to find a suitable person, although you will almost certainly interview some people that lack the skill you need and will overlook others that have the skill but lack the degree.

Considering the proposition that race and gender provide no useful information for making an early judgment about someone’s personal characteristics is more difficult. The topic is far too charged to take on directly. Consider instead that a ghetto or slum is a place of hardship and deprivation. It is widely known that anyone growing up in such a place is at risk of becoming trapped on the same path that led their parents to live in such a place. Even for the few that make it out, their horizons are usually more limited that if they had grown up under more affluent circumstances. Returning to the idea of searching for people with particular skills, although almost everyone would complain that it is unfair, it is also clear that limiting the search to those that have grown up under affluent surroundings would also reduce the effort required to find a suitable person. Strangely, the two methods are remarkably similar in some respects given that one is acceptable and the other is totally unacceptable.

The question remains of whether prejudice is a good thing or a bad thing. I would say that it is an unavoidable thing. Groups of people have common characteristics; that is how we form them into groups. Stereotypes are real; they are the distillation of the attributes of a group into a summary of what can be expected from that group. The human brain is hard-wired for pattern recognition. Anything that it senses is almost immediately correlated with similar things that it has sensed before.

So, are universities wrong to promote the prejudice of the college degree? I would have to say not; a college degree has meaning and provides at least statistical information about those that hold them. However, there is clearly some hypocrisy in their simultaneous promotion of equal treatment for everyone regardless of their background or circumstance. The fact is that people are different, but not so individualistic that  groupings lack meaning. In my opinion, universities along with a huge section of the population have gone too far in their efforts to discourage the use of what are often irrelevant groupings like race and gender and have reached a point of irrational support for foolish ideas about a vaguely defined total equality of all people.

The use of pattern recognition based on previous experiences, otherwise known as prejudice, provides humans with profound survival benefits and is an unavoidable part of life. While it is certainly true that prejudice can lead us astray and must be constantly validated with further experience and perception, it is impossible to remain human and discard it altogether. Political correctness aside, I think it is time we stopped pretending that having preconceived notions is grounds for being excluded from polite society, and that noticing what group a person belongs in tells us nothing worth knowing. Such ideas are making liars of us all.

Fault Is Power

25 October, 2010 (23:45) | Philosophy | By: Jack

“It’s not my Fault!”

How many times have you heard that appeal for your understanding and sympathy? The world is replete with advocates of all stripes and colors ready to deflect fault from almost anyone. Children can no longer be said to be at fault for much of anything. Ascribing fault to a member of a minority group, if not quite illegal, is certainly political suicide for any one pursuing a public office. Even the poor and the debt ridden are routinely told that it is not their fault that they have no money. If you listen to the advocates it is easy to subscribe to the outrage that we are supposed to feel at the treatment of these poor people. I believe, however, that outrage is the wrong emotion.

To my way of thinking, pity is more appropriate. Anyone willing to subscribe to the not-my-fault thought process has abandoned their personal power and imprisoned themselves in victim status. For me to claim that something is not my fault, I must be able to claim that nothing I did caused my troubles and nothing I could have done would have prevented them. It is difficult to imagine a more complete statement of powerlessness. Moreover, this way of thinking offers no possibility of a different outcome if the same circumstances arise again. There is nothing to inspire hope of a better future other than the charity and benevolence of the powerful. What a dismal outlook!

It would be far better to claim fault in all circumstances. Even if you are wrong, the belief that you had a hand in your problems leads directly to a belief that you can do something about them. Acknowledging a fault focuses the mind on self improvement and offers a path to power over the problem in the future. In this view, hope for a better future flows directly from a belief that you could do better next time.

A caveat: We live in a litigious society. A public claim of fault is an invitation to a lawsuit. The claiming of fault is a pathway to power, but the path is smoother if the claim is made in private.


17 July, 2010 (14:18) | Philosophy | By: Jack

Many years ago, I was planning to build a house on Collier Road in Atlanta. I never managed to break ground because someone else wanted the lot much more than I did and offered me twice what I had in it. Still, in a burst of enthusiasm, shortly after I bought the lot I installed a mailbox and a phone line.

When the phone technician came to install the line, he just had to tell me the story of his previous call. He had gone to a house in the Piedmont Park area on the basis of a somewhat vaguely worded work order. When the homeowner answered the door, the technician asked what the problem was. The homeowner said that it was those “unsightly wires” on the side of his house. They had to go. The technician patiently tried to explain that the wires were part of the phone service – no wires, no phone. The homeowner told him that was ridiculous and that he knew lots of people with phones that did not have these ugly wires on their houses. “Take them down.”

The technician set up his ladder, climbed up to the wires, cut them and then waited. It was not too long before the homeowner came storming out demanding to know why his phone was not working. After a loud and rather unproductive confrontation in which the homeowner repeatedly threatened to call his supervisor and the technician repeatedly agreed that the call was a good idea, the homeowner grudgingly gave permission for the technician to splice the wires back together. “I have to have my phone.”

To me this story is more than just an amusing tale of a homeowner too ignorant to understand that home telephone signals need wires. It is iconic of the disconnect between the dependence we have on technology and the lack of interest most people have in actually understanding technology. Carl Sagan put it well when he said “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”, but I believe that the problem runs even deeper.

It is perhaps understandable that people disconnect from the knowledge of technology. It is both difficult to learn and totally unnecessary to the use and enjoyment of technical products. However, technology has fostered other disconnects that are more disturbing. Inexpensive travel by enclosed motorcar has made it possible for us to go about our daily business completely disconnected from the people around us. It is unclear why we still call residential areas communities; there is not much communication going on there, and we often don’t really know the people in the neighborhood. Modern medicine has made great strides in disconnecting us from our bodies. For all too many of us, the basic healthcare strategy is to eat what we like, do what we like, and rely on some pharmaceutical product or surgical procedure to deal with any problems we encounter as a result. The work of agricultural and food scientists has made food plentiful and cheap, but it has also disconnected most of us from the source of that food. We mostly see food as coming from grocery stores, and for all the allegiance we express to the environment we behave as though our daily eating is disconnected from the damage caused by industrial farming. With so many broken connections, it is a wonder that our society continues to function.

There is, in fact, some concern that it may not continue functioning. The health, strength and power of a society all stem from its synergy. When people work together towards common goals, the benefits exceed even the sum of what all of them working separately could have achieved. When you disconnect knowledge from that process, it gets a little less. When you disconnect the communities that enable the consensus required for common goals, the synergy dims. When people lose track of their connection to their bodies and the earth and feel entitled to whatever they want, the synergy is at the breaking point. Without synergy, there is no society.

The good news is that technology does not require us to disconnect. It is laziness and arrogance that cause that. Technology is neutral. It can be used for good or bad. Technology is the mother of civilization, and civilization cannot exist without it. Technology can also be the death of civilization. Which way it works is up to us and the small choices and connections we make, or don’t make, every day.

Today might be a good day to reconnect.

The Sidelining of Our Best and Brightest

4 July, 2010 (18:03) | Family Life, Politics | By: Jack

America is in trouble. We all know it. However, there is not much consensus on the subjects of how we got in trouble or of what to do about it. I hear a lot of accusations leveled at greedy corporations and left-wing loons, but I believe that these are superficial manifestations of much deeper-set causes. With the array of problems besetting the country from a faltering economy to a fragile environment, it is surprising to find that many of the best and brightest people in the country are on the sidelines. The fate of the country seems to be in the hands of lawyers and passionate fools.

The claim that any significant number of talented people would be disengaged during a time of crisis seems outrageous, but I believe I can show how we have systematically positioned a huge number of intelligent people into positions of powerlessness. The fundamental problem is that for all the talk of American ingenuity, we don’t really like smart people. We celebrate athleticism. We applaud artistry. We swoon over beauty. We envy wealth. We even appreciate shrewdness. Intelligence and creativity make us uneasy. To see the truth of this, it is only necessary to watch television for a while or to listen carefully to almost any group of middle-school students. The image is crystal clear. If you are intelligent and interested in learning, you are an outcast and no one will love you. Both of my sons have at times found the need to conceal their intelligence to avoid being stigmatized.

For some children, the problem is much worse. They are bright in uncommon ways and no one seems to know how to accept this gift. These children love to learn, but bore easily. They do not want to focus on something they have seen before. They are often quite active and are most reluctant to sit idly by while some teacher says the same things that were said the day before. They are not keen on following rules that seem pointless to them. While many of these children are brilliant, we really do not like them very much. They are disruptive. In fact we dislike them sufficiently that we have given a clinical name to their condition and consider it to be an illness. We call it ADHD and we drug children so afflicted until they stop being disruptive. Author Thom Hartmann (http://www.thomhartmann.com/) has a different view of these children. In his book The Edison Gene, he refers to ADHD children as hunters in a farmer culture and pointes out that if you have a truly difficult problem to solve, you want someone disruptive. Continuing to do what we have been doing all along is not likely to work out well.

While possibly not intentional, these things form a coherent and consistent assault on people that exhibit intelligence, but there are a variety of reactions. Some sublimate their intelligence into prowess on the athletic field or into social skill and sexual allure. Some accept the label of geek or nerd and endure the taunting, teasing and bullying that come with the tag, especially for the guys. Some try to lose themselves in alternate cultures like on-line gaming or street gangs where at least the rules are clear. Some go into stealth mode, knowing the value of knowledge, and conceal their true interests behind a façade of bravado or airheadedness. Some simply give up and focus on having fun and getting by. What a waste!

As these kids reach college age, the situation changes, but I can not say that it gets better. For most people, college is about getting a job. Strangely, even though intelligence makes us uneasy, for most jobs we want to hire people that are smart enough to get through college, although too much college hurts your job prospects. (No one said that public opinion had to be consistent or rational.) Colleges are actually quite effective at sorting good employees from the bad. Most of the elite colleges will admit only people that have proven that they are meticulous rule followers by getting high marks in all subjects, and all colleges simulate the business environment both with courses that make unreasonable demands on your time and courses that require you to agree with or mollify the boss (i.e. the professor) if you want good grades. It is usually not until graduate school that colleges encourage independent thought, and by then many students find that they are unprepared to think on their own.

Some students do manage to maintain their independence, and of these some choose to continue with academic training so they can join the ranks of PhDs. This degree entitles them to become faculty members at universities that focus all of their intelligence on finding research grants and establishing a name for themselves in academic circles. There is not much time left over for dealing with the outside world, although some do find time to participate in congressional commissions whose reports are incomprehensible to most people and are ignored by almost everyone.

Some of the other independent thinkers make their way through the business world. They gain some experience and then find an opportunity where they believe their intelligence can make a difference. They start a business, do well and eventually sell the business for megabucks. At this point, the standard dream is to take their reward, retire early and live the good life, so many of them do just that. Unfortunately, that means that many of our best people, those that have proven themselves in the business world, are off-line enjoying themselves and are not in much of a position to help with a national crisis.

So, are there enough intelligent people left after all this attrition to deal with the economic crisis, the energy crisis, the water crisis, the population crisis with its resulting environmental crisis, and while we are at it the divergence of public opinion and the crisis in national unity? I can not say for sure, but America has quite a history of spectacular saves in situations that seemed hopeless. I can say, however, that it would be easier if more people were in a position to help think through some very complex issues for which most of the proposed solutions have subtle but ultimately nasty side effects.

Simple Solutions for the Environment

21 June, 2010 (17:29) | Current Events, Politics | By: Jack

The oil that is daily spewing into the Gulf of Mexico has provided endless opportunities for various groups to grandstand their view of what we should do not only about the oil that is fouling the Gulf, but also about the Environment in general. It may not be my turn, but I am going to jump in anyhow.

If one takes an objective view of all of the environmental issues that have been cataloged over the years, it is not too difficult to see the root cause of all of them; there are just too damn many of us. After all, one dog doing his business on your lawn is at most a minor nuisance. However, two thousand dogs doing their business on your lawn is unlivable. The simplest and most obvious solution to the entire array of environmental issues is clearly to arrange for there to be a whole lot fewer people on planet Earth. Given that human history has an incredible variety of methods for mutual destruction, this should not be difficult.

To give the planet time to recover, the population would need to be reduced to approximately the level it was 200 years ago, a reduction of about 90%. However, to prevent a rapid resurgence of the problem, a reduction of 99% would be more effective. There are several alternative methods for accomplishing this goal including a pandemic caused by military biological agents and wide-spread genocidal nuclear warfare, but the simplest might be to arm radical Islam since they already seem to want to destroy the rest of us and also seem best equipped to live in the primitive society that would follow. If they could be persuaded to take up an environmental jihad, the clean-up after the purge might be less than what the more technological methods would require.

Okay, I admit the whole idea is stupid, but that is the point. Most of the well publicized environmental agendas suffer from the same class of stupidity. Many green zealots propose sudden radical changes in energy production and use as though the resulting economic chaos were inconsequential. The biofuels crowd has mostly failed to notice that these fuels compete with the food supply for resources and that some of them, particularly ethanol, contain less energy than is required to produce them.

The truth is that any change causes pain somewhere, and the degree of change required to adequately address the long list of environmental problems would cause pain throughout the world. Nothing to fear though, from where I sit it appears that almost no one has the stomach for that level of pain and unless the participation in the changes required is extremely high, they will be totally ineffective. Since participation will most likely be futile, I expect to see more of what we have seen so far, rhetoric from the politicians, starry-eyed dreams from the fanatics and lip service from the majority.

Perhaps some celebrated hero will find a temporary technological solution to our environmental problems, but as the population continues to increase, temporary solutions are the best we can hope for. Eventually nothing will be enough to stave off disaster.

Oh well, we can always fall back on genocide.

Significant Digit Thinking

13 June, 2010 (14:26) | Core Concepts, Politics | By: Jack

Sometime during school almost everyone has been exposed to the term significant digits or significant figures as it applies to the precision of measurements, even if most no longer have a clue what that is about. As a quick refresher, the general idea is that if a measurement has been made to the nearest tenth of an inch, it makes no sense after a subsequent calculation to report the digits down in the micron range. Those digits are insignificant based on the precision of the original measurement.

Significant digits are a useful tool in science and engineering, but the concept is even more useful in understanding how people respond to numbers. While most people can transcribe a long number, only the first few digits have any real meaning for them. For some people, only the first digit is significant. This is the source of the retail practice of setting the price of a $4.00 item at $3.99. People that work with numbers can perceive a few more digits, but almost no one internalizes more than four or five digits. To compensate for this limitation, larger businesses will report their financial results in thousands or millions of dollars to make them more readable.

One result of this human limitation is that it is difficult to compare numbers that differ in scale sufficiently that none of the significant digits line up. In most circumstances, the smaller number in this situation becomes totally insignificant and may be treated as unimportant.

This is especially true with money. If you have $100 available to you, $10 is a significant expenditure and you will certainly be careful about spending $1 and perhaps even $0.10. Some people will even pay attention down to costs of $0.01. If, on the other hand, you have $100M available, the thinking scales up so that $10M is very significant, $1M deserves some care, and $100K can still be seen as reasonably important. $10,000 begins to seem unimportant and $1,000 becomes hard to take seriously. Unfortunately, the concept continues to scale with an increase in total funds available.

If you are a federal politician dealing with a $100 trillion budget it will be hard to pay any serious attention to a sum less than $1 billion, even though it is equivalent to the annual wages paid to twenty thousand people at $50K per year. Even worse, the significant digit limitation leaves politicians receptive to the absurd argument that $1M is a tiny cost compared to the social benefit of some constituent’s pet project. It also places them in the awkward position of being able to believe that gifts from lobbyists that are worth many thousands of dollars are mere trinkets and not worth mentioning. The significant digit limitation is one of the best reasons that I know of for decentralizing the spending of tax money.

For a few people, the significant digit limitation is quite a boon. These people deal in financial transactions and are paid a percentage based on the size of the transaction. When they see a payday after a major transaction, it is very clear that a tiny percentage of a really large number can still be a large number.

The Cosmic Joke

6 June, 2010 (16:15) | Philosophy | By: Jack

God must have a great sense of humor. Why else would life be constructed with so many opportunities for comedic situations? For me the ultimate cosmic joke is the in the way that life all too regularly presents us with a decision that must be made now when there is no possibility of possessing enough data to make an informed choice. This is seriously funny in that sense of unpleasant-things-happening-to-other-people humor.

Although the Cosmic Joke is with us throughout life, a prime example confronts high school seniors. They must decide what they are going to do with their lives after high school. Should they go to college? If so, where? Should they get a job? If so, doing what? Should they learn a trade? If so, which one? High school seniors cannot possibly know what they really want to do because they have had no opportunity to do any of those things.

If college is the choice, the amusement continues with decisions about what major to select and later with decisions about which job to take. If along the way someone special comes along and a decision about marriage becomes urgent, things get truly hilarious. The information on which to base a rational decision about marriage normally is available about seven years and two children after the fact.

Traditional old-world societies found a way around the joke. They simply eliminated all the Cosmic-Joke decisions from life. A child is expected to stay in the family’s profession. Wives are chosen for sons. Everyone gets the same education, perhaps mostly religious. Everyone cooks the same traditional foods, listens to the same traditional music and lives by the same traditional stories.

That is all neat and orderly, but I think I prefer the Cosmic Joke.

Underwear Supremacy

3 June, 2010 (17:47) | Business, Family Life | By: Jack

Doing the laundry is not the favorite chore at my house. We also have packed schedules like most households. As a result, laundry often falls behind schedule, as uninteresting chores often do. At times it can get one or even two weeks behind. As the closets and dressers empty into hampers and other piles of soiled clothing, an obvious problem crops up – eventually there is nothing clean left to wear.

Unlike the stereotypical male I really do prefer clean clothes. I especially dislike having to reuse dirty underwear. There is something about having to put the same underwear back on after a shower that seems to cancel most of the clean feeling that comes from showering. It is not a situation I am willing to tolerate for long. However, I also value domestic tranquility, so the problem becomes a dilemma. I could ignore it and just live with the unpleasantness; after all it only happens rarely. I could put on my tough-guy act and raise the decibel level until the problem goes away, but that seriously fouls domestic tranquility for weeks afterward. I could take over the chore and just get it done, but that move can prove dangerous. The balance of effort in a marriage is delicate. It is easy for everyone in a household to believe that they are overburdened by their share of the chores. There is always a chance that chore picked up temporarily out of frustration could become a permanent member of my chore list. Fortunately, there is a better way; I have gone for underwear supremacy.

 The last time we had a logjam in the laundry I went out and bought enough underwear for three and a half weeks. I now hold at least a week’s buffer in underwear beyond the point where everyone else in my household runs out. As a result, the problem of delinquent laundry touches me last. Naturally I had to insure that I was not starting an underwear arms race, but my wife lacks room in her dresser for more underwear and my son would never spend money on underwear when he knows that if he just wears out what he has someone else will pay for it. Untimely laundry is no longer unpleasant, and I am free to be understanding and supportive and to declare my certainty that everything will be back to normal before much longer.

The business world is full of situations in which someone else’s shortcomings can cause pain for the guy in charge. As a result most bosses develop reputations either as pushovers or as tyrants. I do not believe either situation is optimal. With a little thought many situations can be tweaked so that the consequences of failure fall first on the person causing the problem or so that some shirked responsibility is paired with something that motivates the slacker. While it is not universally applicable, it is a useful tool for maintaining both some respect and some rapport with coworkers.


30 May, 2010 (18:15) | Business | By: Jack

There are four squares, but you can only play in one at a time.

In business, there are two work modes, heads-up and heads-down. Heads-down work requires a focus that precludes paying attention to the surroundings. Heads-up work entails paying attention to the surroundings. There are two places work can be performed, in the office and out of the office. Thus the matrix Up, Down, In and Out.

Engineering, programming, copy writing and bookkeeping are examples of heads-down/in-office work. Management and reception are examples of heads-up/in-office work. Outside sales is an example of heads-up/out-of-office work. Field service is an example of heads-down/out-of-office work.

All businesses have more than just one category of work. A majority have work in all four categories. However, it is not possible to cover two squares full-time with a single person.

While all of this seems obvious, there are implications that get missed. For example, a single-person proprietorship involves time-sharing that person across multiple jobs and usually means working two shifts. The same is true of any situation in which heads-down and heads-up work are mixed, i.e. time sharing and two shifts. I have even had situations in which after I was sent to the field for a week to help resolve a problem, and on my return there were managers that were shocked that my in-office project work had fallen behind by a week.

Unfortunately, the obvious is not necessarily obvious until you think about it. If you come across someone that has missed this point, draw four squares and label them up, down, in and out, and see if they get it.

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