Manufacturing guy-at-large.

Filtering by Tag: quotes

Intellectual influence

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a 2011 review of Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow - which, as I've written before, is very good:

But intellectual influence is tricky to define. Is it a matter of citations? Awards? Prestigious professorships? Book sales? A seat at Charlie Rose's table? West suggests something else, something more compelling: "Kahneman's career shows that intellectual influence is the ability to dissolve disciplinary boundaries."

That's a pretty compelling definition to me.

Allen on science, engineering, and modes of information transfer

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Over the past week I've been reading Thomas J. Allen's Managing the Flow of Technology, which summarizes about a decade of MIT Sloan research into how R&D organizations acquire and transmit knowledge. A number of passages have jumped out to me, and I wanted to comment on them here. Emphasis is mine throughout.

The distinction between science and engineering is key to this book. On page 3:

The scientist's principal goal is a published paper. The technologist's goal is to produce some physical change in the world. This difference in orientation, and the subsequent difference in the nature of the products of the two, has profound implications for those concerned with supplying information to either of the two activities.

And on page 5:

...whereas the provision of information in science involves the gathering, organizing, and distribution of publications, the situation in technology is very different. The technologist must obtain his information either through the very difficult task of decoding and translating physically encoded information or by relying upon direct personal contact and communication with other technologists. His reliance upon the written word will be much less than that of the scientist. 

Starting on page 39:

The differences between science and technology lie not only in the kinds of people who are attracted to them; they are basic to the nature of the activities themselves. Both science and technology develop in a cumulative manner, with each new advance building upon and being a product of vast quantities of work that have gone before. In science all of the work up to any point can be found permanently recorded in literature, which serves as a repository for all scientific knowledge. The cumulative nature of science can be demonstrated quite clearly (Price, 1965a, 1970) by the way in which citations among scientific journal articles cluster and form a regular pattern of development over time.
A journal system has been developed in most technologies that in many ways emulates the system originally developed by scientists; yet the literature published in the majority of these journals lack, as Price (1965a, 1970) has shown, one of the fundamental characteristics of the scientific literature: it does not cumulate or build upon itself as does the scientific literature. Citations to previous papers or patents are fewer and are most often to the author's own work. Publication occupies a position of less importance than it does in science where it serves to document the end product and establish priority. Because published information is at best secondary to the actual utilization of the technical innovation, this archival is not as essential to ensure the technologist that he is properly credited by future generations. The names of Wilbur and Orville Wright are not remembered because they published papers. As pointed out in chapter 1, the technologist's principal legacy to posterity is encoded in physical, not verbal, structure. Consequently the technologist publishes less and devotes less time to reading than do scientists.
Information is transferred in technology primarily through personal contact. Even in this, however, the technologist differs markedly from the scientist. Scientists working at the frontier of a particular specialty know each other and associate together in what Derek Price has called "invisible colleges." They keep track of one another's work through visits, seminars, and small invitational conferences, supplemented by an informal exchange of written material long before it reaches archival publication. Technologists, on the other hand, keep abreast of their field by close association with co-workers in their own organization. They are limited in forming invisible colleges by the imposition of organizational barriers.

I'll pause here to note that this bothers me somewhat. I enjoy few things more than learning from other people, especially if they inhabit different worlds than I do. Allen continues:

Unlike scientists, the vast majority of technologists are employed by organization with a well-defined mission (profit, national defense, space exploration, pollution abatement, and so forth). Mission-oriented organizations necessarily demand of their technologists a degree of identification unknown in most scientific circles. This organizational identification works in two ways to exclude the technologist from informal communication channels outside his organization. First, he is inhibited by the requirements that he work only on problems that are of interest to his employer, and second, he must refrain from early disclosure of the results of his research in order to maintain his employer's advantage over competitors. Both of these constraints violate the rather strong scientific norms that underlie and form the basis of the invisible college. The first of these norms demands that science be free to choose its own problems and that the community of colleagues be the only judges of the relative importance of possible areas of investigation, and the second is that the substantive findings of research are to be fully assigned and communicated to the entire research community. The industrial organization, by preventing its employers from adhering to these two norms, impedes the formation by technologists of anything resembling an invisible college.

Incidentally, I believe that companies lose more by inhibiting cross pollination than they gain by protecting their competitive position. It would appear that Allen would agree, at least to an extent. On page 42:

The Effect of Turnover
It is this author's suspicion that much of the proprietary protectionism in industry is far overplayed. Despite all of the organizational efforts to prevent it, the state of the art in technology propagates quite rapidly. Either there are too many martinis consumed at engineering conventions or some other mechanism is at work. This other mechanism may well be the itinerant engineer, who passes through quite a number of organizations over the course of a career...
Each time that an engineer leaves an employer, voluntarily or otherwise, he carries some knowledge of the employer's operations, experience, and current technology with him. We are gradually coming to realize that human beings are the most effective carriers of information and that the best way to transfer information between organizations or social systems is to physically transfer a human carrier. Roberts' studies (Roberts and Wainer, 1967) marshal impressive evidence for the effective transfer of space technology from quasi-academic institutions to the industrial sector and eventually to commercial applications in those instances in which technologists left university laboratories to establish their own businesses. This finding is especially impressive in view of the general failure to find evidence of successful transfer of space technology by any other mechanism, despite the fact that many techniques have been tried and a substantial amount of money has been invested in promoting the transfer.
This certainly makes sense. Ideas have no real existence outside of the minds of men. Ideas can be represented in verbal or graphic form, but such representation is necessarily incomplete and cannot be easily structured to fit new situations. The human brain has a capacity for flexibly restructuring information in a manner that has never been approached by even the most sophisticated computer programs. [Just jumping in here to say bravo. -SW] For truly effective transfer of technical information, we must make use of this human ability to recode and restructure information so that it fits into new contexts and situations. Consequently, the best way to transfer technical information is to move a human carrier. The high turnover among engineers results in a heavy migration from organization to organization and is therefore a very effective mechanism for disseminating technology throughout an industry and often to other industries. Every time an engineer changes jobs he brings with him a record of his experiences on the former job and a great amount of what his former organization considers "proprietary" information. Now, of course, the information is usually quite perishable, and its value decays rapidly with time. But a continual flow of engineers among the firms of an industry ensures that no single firm is very far behind in knowledge of what its competitors are doing. So the mere existence of high turnover among R&D personnel vitiates much of the protectionism accorded proprietary information.
As for turnover itself, it is well known that most organizations attempt to minimize it. If all of the above is even partially true, a low level of turnover could be seriously damaging to the interests of the organization. Actually, however, quite the opposite is true. A certain amount of turnover may be not only desirable but absolutely essential to the survival of a technical organization, although just what the optimum turnover level is for an organization is a question that remains to be answered. It will vary from one situation to the next and is highly dependent upon the rate at which the organization's technical staff is growing. After all, it is the influx of new engineers that is most beneficial to the organization, not the exodus of old ones. When growth rate is high, turnover can be low. An organization that is not growing should welcome or encourage turnover. The Engineers' Joint Council figure of 12 percent may even be below the optimum for some organizations. Despite the costs of hiring and processing new personnel, an organization might desire an even higher level of turnover. Although it is impossible to place a price tag on the new state-of-the-art information that is brought in by new employees, it may very well more than counterbalance the costs of hiring. This would be true at least to the point where turnover becomes disruptive to the morale and functioning of the organization. 

Allen also discusses the degree two which academia influences technology development. On page 51:

Project Hindsight was the first of a series of attempts to trace technological advances back to their scientific origins. Within the twenty-year horizon of its backward search, Hindsight was able to find very little contribution from basic science (Sherwin and Isenson, 1967). In most cases, the trail ran cold before reaching any activity that could be considered basic research. In Isenson's words, "It would appear that most advances in the technological state of the art are based on no more recent advances than Ohm's Law or Maxwell's equations."

On page 52:

In yet another recent study, Langrish found little support for a strong science-technology interaction. Langrish wisely avoided the problem of differentiating science from technology. He categorized research by the type of institution in which it was conducted - industry, university, or government establishment. In tracing eighty-four award-winning innovations to their origins, he found that "the role of university as a source of ideas for [industrial] innovation is fairly small" (Langrish, 1971) and that "university science and industrial technology are two quite separate activities which occasionally come into contact with each other" (Langrish, 1969). He argued very strongly that most university basic research is totally irrelevant to societal needs and can be only partially justified for its contributions through training of students.

That's tough stuff, if you ask me. Incidentally, I've considered many times recently whether I myself would go to college if I was just graduating high school today. It would not be a straightforward choice.

Then Allen turned to the qualities of the things that engineers actually read. On page 70:

Looking first at the identity of the publications that were read, there are two major categories of publications that engineers use. The first of these might be called formal literature. It comprises books, professional journals, trade publications, and other media that are normally available to the public and have few, if any, restrictions on their distribution. Informal publications, on the other hand, are published by organizations usually for their own internal use; they often contain proprietary material and for that reason are given a very limited distribution. On the average, engineers divide their attention between the two media on about an equal basis, only slightly favoring the informal publications (table 4.3). Because engineering reports are usually much longer than journal articles and because books are used only very briefly for quite specific purposes, each instance of report reading takes twice as long as an instance of journal or book reading. The net result is a threefold greater expenditure of time on informal reports. We can conclude from this brief overview that the unpublished engineering report occupies a position that is at least as important as that of the book or journal in the average engineer's reading portfolio.

Here I should note that I read this through the lens of someone whose public blog is essentially an ongoing and highly detailed series of informal reports. I'm certainly no scientist, and in general my writing isn't particularly academic. I'm doing decidedly applied work, and I document it (including what most companies would call proprietary information about my products and the results of my research) for anyone to read and repurpose as they please. 

Allen continues, explaining why engineering journals aren't really used by practicing engineers. On page 73:

The publications of the professional engineering societies in all of these diverse fields are little used by their intended audience.
Why should this be so? The answer is not difficult to find. Most professional engineering journals are utterly incomprehensible to the average engineer. They often rely heavily upon mathematical presentations, which can be understood by only a limited audience. The average engineer has been away from the university for a number of years and has usually allowed his mathematical skills to degenerate. Even if he understood the mathematics at one time, it is unlikely that he can now. The articles, even in engineering society journals, are written for a very limited audience, usually those few at the very forefront of a technology. Just as in science, the goal of the author is not to communicate to the outsider but to gain for himself the recognition of his peers.

It's funny: the purpose of this blog is to communicate with outsiders AND gain the recognition of my peers. I'd like to think, in fact, that it fits the description of the ideal engineering literature that Allen puts forth on page 75:

The professional societies could publish a literature form whose technical content is high, but which is understandable by the audience to whom it is directed...The task is not an impossible one. Engineers will read journals when these journals are written in a form and style that they can comprehend. Furthermore, technological information can be provided in this form. Why then do the professional societies continue to publish material that only a small minority of their membership can use? If this information can be provided in a form that the average engineer can understand, why haven't the professional societies done so?
The obvious answer to these questions is that the societies have only recently become aware of the problem. In the past, they were almost totally ignorant of even the composition of their membership, and they still know littler of their information needs. Thus, they have never had the necessary information to formulate realistic goals or policy. Perhaps the most unfortunate circumstance that ever befell the engineering profession in the United States is that at the time when it first developed a self-awareness and began to form professional societies, it looked to the scientific societies, which had then existed for over 200 years, to determine their form and function.

Interestingly, though, I do not fit the description of the engineer that Allen gives on page 99:

Most engineers are employed by bureaucratic organizations. Academic scientists are not. The engineer sees the organization as controller of the only reward system of any real importance to him and patterns his behavior accordingly. While the academic scientist finds his principal reference group and feels a high proportion of his influence from outside the organization, for the engineer, the exogenous forces simply do not exist. The organization in which he is employed controls his pay, his promotions, and, to a very great extent, his prestige in the community.

To be clear, I get a ton out of working closely with people. I worked alone building bikes for a full three years, and was solo and very isolated during much of the two year construction project I completed after college; the lack of camaraderie in those situations was hard on me. I learned through that process that working with people - and having a mutual feeling of respect and enthusiasm - was incredibly important. I've gotten a ton out of all of the colleagues I've had since then - including many who I initially clashed with.

But exogenous forces in my life absolutely exist, and are important too. I benefit greatly from keeping contact with people elsewhere in my industry - and people outside of it - and I'm confident that the companies I've worked for have benefited from my network too.

My belief is that there's more room for these things to coexist than most companies realize. As evidence, I would present that when I began working on metal 3D printing, I knew nothing about it - and didn't work at a company that had any particular interest about it in the first place. I believe that it is only through my openness that I've gotten where I am today, and through that openness I've also vastly improved my access to experienced engineers across the industry. I've gotten cold emails from people working at some of the biggest and most advanced R&D organizations in the world, something I don't think would ever have happened had I not shared the way I did. And I'm confident that the my relationships with these people are mutually beneficial - both to us as people and to the companies who employ us.

I'm about a third through Managing the Flow of Technology now; I'll probably finish it in the next month. I recommend it.

Not as hopelessly unyielding

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a piece in the New Yorker about The Ford Foundation (lightly edited on my part):

The urge to change the world is normally thwarted by a near-insurmountable barricade of obstacles: failure of imagination, failure of courage, bad governments, bad planning, incompetence, corruption, fecklessness, the laws of nations, the laws of physics, the weight of history, inertia of all sorts, psychological unsuitability on the part of the would-be changer, the resistance of people who would lose from the change, the resistance of people who would benefit from it, the seduction of activities other than world-changing, lack of practical knowledge, lack of political skill, and lack of money.
Lack of money is a stubborn obstacle, but not as hopelessly unyielding as some of the others.

The above was written in the context social justice, but much of the paradox in this article translates to business too. While lack of money can certainly screw you up, it's more common to fail because of the multitude of other factors working against you - many of which are *far* more difficult to overcome than lack of money.

I don't want to be Amazon.

Added on by Spencer Wright.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt, talking with Henry Blodget:

There's a lot of people who have gotten fired thinking they're Jeff Bezos. So I don't want to be Amazon. I want to be GE.

This is right after Immelt refers to Bezos as someone he admires.

I've thought and written about corporate self awareness before (in particular with respect to Amazon and McMaster-Carr; see also the last paragraph or two of this old post about Pixar), but it's been increasingly on my mind recently. 

Knowing who you are - and having the fortitude to act accordingly - is key.

Murray Hill

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I'm reading The Idea Factory, and this description of Bell Labs' Murray Hill facility jumped out at me:

Kelly, Buckley, and Jewett were of the mind that Bell Labs would soon become - or was already - the largest and most advanced research organization in the world. As they toured industrial labs in the United States and Europe in the mid-1930s, seeking ideas for their own project, their opinions were reinforced. They wanted the new building to reflect the Labs' lofty status and academic standing - "surroundings more suggestive of a university than a factory," in Buckley's words, but with a slight but significant difference. "No attempt has been made to achieve the character of a university campus with its separate buildings," Buckley told Jewett. "On the contrary, all buildings have been connected so as to avoid fixed geographical delineation between departments and to encourage free interchange and close contact among them." The physicists and chemists and mathematicians were not meant to avoid one another, in other words, and the research people were not meant to evade the development people.
By intention, everyone would be in one another's way. Members of the technical staff would often have both laboratories and small offices - but these might be in different corridors, therefore making it necessary to walk between the two, and all but assuring a chance encounter or two with a colleague during the commute. By the same token, the long corridor for the wing that would house many of the physics researchers was intentionally made to be seven hundred feet in length. It was so long that to look down it from one end was to see the other end disappear at a vanishing point. Traveling its length without encountering a number of acquaintances, problems, diversions, and ideas would be almost impossible. Then again, that was the point. Walking down that impossibly long tiled corridor, a scientist on his way to lunch in the Murray Hill cafeteria was like a magnet rolling past iron filings.

Sounds like my kind of place.

Sufficiently expert

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a Paul Graham essay titled "How to be an Expert in a Changing World:"

If you're sufficiently expert in a field, any weird idea or apparently irrelevant question that occurs to you is ipso facto worth exploring.*

* In practice "sufficiently expert" doesn't require one to be recognized as an expert—which is a trailing indicator in any case. In many fields a year of focused work plus caring a lot would be enough.


David Foster Wallace

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From "A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again."


Death and Conroy notwithstanding, we're maybe now in a position to appreciate the lie at the dark heart of Celebrity's brochure. For this - the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS - is the central fantasy that the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn't that this promise will be kept, but that such a promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie.* And of course I want to believe it - fuck the Buddha - I want to believe that maybe this Ultimate Fantasy Vacation will be enough pampering, and this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my Infantile part will be sated.**
*It may well be the Big One, come to think of it.
**The fantasy they're selling is the whole reason why all the subjects in all the brochures' photos have facial expressions that are at once orgasmic and oddly slack: these expressions are the facial equivalent of going "Aaaahhhhh," and the sound is not just that of somebody's Infantile part exulting in finally getting the total pampering it's always wanted but also that of the relief all the other parts of that person feel when the Infantile part finally shuts up.


Alexis Madrigal

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I really enjoy Alexis Madrigal's writing, and 5 Intriguing Things is the *best.* He just left the Atlantic for Fusion (joining another of my favorites, Felix Salmon), and his note in today's newsletter struck a chord with me. Emphasis mine:


My animating belief is that politicians and bullshitters and ideologues have taken the idea of societal change and replaced it with a particular notion of technology as the only or main causal mechanism in history. Somehow, we’ve been convinced that only machines and corporations make the future, not people and ideas. And that's not true. Just take a look back in history at the mid-century “futurists” projecting they’d be living on Mars with their stay-at-home wives, playing pinochle in all-white communities.

This is not to denigrate the importance of technology out there in the world or call for a return to pre-industrial or pre-Internet society. Because all the other types of change are being mediated by our phones and networks, artificial intelligences and robots. And those dynamics are really important.

But if you really want to know what the future is going to be like, you can't just talk about the billions of phones in China or paste some logarithmic growth charts into your Powerpoint. You have to go to the places where people are experiencing bits of the future—living the changes—and use that reporting to weave together a multivalent portrait of our possible futures. You have to get the many ways of thinking about the future into the same space, so you can see how they fit together.  

I like this.


Even though he had gotten himself a seat

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From last week's Freakonomics podcast, a conversation with Ed Glaeser about Gary Becker, an economist whose career was punctuated with unpopular - and brilliant - stances. Note, the references to wilderness are referring to periods where Becker studied subjects that were at the time considered taboo.


Dubner: I’m curious whether you think that there are any lessons to be learned from Gary Becker’s experience generally, and maybe how anybody who’s listening to this, whatever occupation or vocation they might be thinking about, could perhaps apply some of that determination of Gary Becker’s to their own lives?

Glaeser: I think Becker is different from many of the wilderness-years-type scientists that we think of in the sense that he was not somebody who came out of nowhere who had a brilliant idea and was mocked for it initially. He was someone who was part of a very well-established economics department, who had, early respect, early rewards in lots of different ways. But what’s different from many of us is that he didn’t in any sense rest on those, and he didn’t rest them not just in the sense that he kept working, although he worked like heck. He didn’t rest on them in the sense in which he decided to risk everything on every throw of the dice, right? He wanted to always be out there. He wanted to push as far as he could. He wanted be as risky; he wanted to risk going back into the wilderness even though he had, you know, gotten himself a seat in the throne room, right? And that’s what’s really special about him, it’s being in the wilderness by design, by choice. Here’s a guy who over and over again decided to take those risks, to court disaster, to be on the very edge, to go into rooms, to enter fields in which he knew that people were going to think that he was outrageous. He knew that people were going to denigrate his work. And yet he still did it. And that’s what made him so productive. And I think the challenge for all of us, particularly all of us who are in the idea business is it’s a reminder to try to push ourselves as much as possible to try to be different, to be unpopular often, to do things that are troubling to the status quo, that risk us being thought of as being, you know, less than we are. 



Tons of concrete

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a great interview with Randall Munroe (of xkcd) on Fivethirtyeight:

One thing that bothers me is large numbers presented without context. We’re always seeing things like, “This canal project will require 1.15 million tons of concrete.” It’s presented as if it should mean something to us, as if numbers are inherently informative. So we feel like if we don’t understand it, it’s our fault.

But I have only a vague idea of what one ton of concrete looks like. I have no idea what to think of a million tons. Is that a lot? It’s clearly supposed to sound like a lot, because it has the word “million” in it. But on the other hand, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” made $7 million at the box office, and it was one of the biggest flops in movie history.

It can be more useful to look for context. Is concrete a surprisingly large share of the project’s budget? Is the project going to consume more concrete than the rest of the state combined? Will this project use up a large share of the world’s concrete? Or is this just easy, space-filling trivia? A good rule of thumb might be, “If I added a zero to this number, would the sentence containing it mean something different to me?” If the answer is “no,” maybe the number has no business being in the sentence in the first place.


Added on by Spencer Wright.

From an interesting article about placebos and nocebos:


Although it is hard to imagine that nocebos would be purposely used in the practice of Western biomedicine, it is very likely that the nocebo effect is much more prevalent than either patients or physicians recognize. For example, when doctors highlight the potential side effects of new medications, such as GI distress or sexual dysfunction, patients complain of these much more frequently than when they are minimized. The same is true with pain caused by medical procedures: Women in labor who are given an epidural anesthetic are much more likely to report discomfort if the procedure is described beforehand as being more, rather than less, painful.

People are weird.

Against bullet points

Added on by Spencer Wright.

A strong argument (by 3M and HBR) against bullet points:

In every company we know, planning follows the standard format of the bullet outline. It fits the way we’re used to writing and presenting information. It’s economical. It reduces complex business situations to a few, apparently clean points. It allows for conversation around the issues and gives presenters the freedom to move, modify, clarify, and revise on the fly. In a sense, the bullet list may be an artifact of the way business takes place in the course of strategic planning: it mirrors the character of meetings and the highpressure pace of the manager or planner who must reduce the complex to the short and clear.

So what’s the problem?

If the language we use in writing strategic planning reports were only a matter of presentation, of the way we package ideas and offer them to others, it would not matter much how we wrote them. But writing is thinking. Bullets allow us to skip the thinking step, genially tricking ourselves into supposing that we have planned when, in fact, we’ve only listed some good things to do.


Requiring that a plan have a narrative logic forces to the surface the writer’s buried assumptions about cause and effect. The act of writing a full, logical statement encourages clear thinking and brings out the subtlety and complexity of ideas. Indeed, sometimes we sit down to write believing we have a clear idea, but our difficulty in getting it down on paper exposes the flaws in our thinking.

Full text here (HBR paywall); free version here.

Cross-disciplinary work is the norm

Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a very interesting article about organizing engineering teams for product development:


Universities have, since the 12th century, and certainly since von Humboldt's reforms in the 19th century, been organized around specialized areas of knowledge. Thus we find departments of chemistry, physics, mechanical engineering, history, mathematics and so on. Each of these will often have sub-groupings representing sub-specialites within each discipline...The system works very well, primarily because until very recently universities have not been called upon to do very much cross-disciplinary research. Industry has not had that luxury. Cross-disciplinary work is the norm in industry. Products are seldom based opon single disciplines or specialties. It normally requires a blending or integration of knowledge from different specialties to develop even relatively simple products.

If you ask me, modern education should follow product development's lead - and break down the divisional structures they've used for so long.


Sean Maroni

Added on by Spencer Wright.

This resonates with me:

I don’t tolerate slack in an organization. When someone is underperforming I’ll point it out. While interning at a large electronics manufacturer I used my final presentation to highlight multiple issues in the company that I had observed. My manager squirmed wearily in his seat. The CTO called me to his office for more details. He thanked me for my candor.

That manager never did offer me a job. In fact, most of the department was laid off a month later. That department was broken. The fact that an intern broke the ice was case and point. I’m glad that my words made a difference for the employees who remained.

A thousand times happier

Added on by Spencer Wright.

In a good article questioning the human drive for more power, emphasis mine:


Even if you don't buy into this picture of Pleistocene richness replaced by modern poverty, it is clear that the immense rise in human power has not been matched by an equal rise in human happiness. We are a thousand times more powerful than our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but not even the most optimistic Whig can believe that we are a thousand times happier. If we told our great-great-grandmother how we live, with vaccinations and painkillers and running water and stuffed refrigerators, she would likely have clasped her hands in astonishment and said: "You are living in paradise! You probably wake up every morning with a song in your heart, and pass your days walking on sunshine, full of gratitude and loving-kindness for all." Well, we don't. Compared to what most people in history dreamed about, we may be living in paradise. But for some reason, we don't feel that we are.

One explanation has been provided by social scientists, who have recently rediscovered an ancient wisdom: our happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations. Expectations, however, tend to adapt to conditions. When things improve, expectations rise, and consequently even dramatic improvements in conditions might leave us as dissatisfied as before. In their pursuit of happiness, people are stuck on the proverbial "hedonic treadmill", running faster and faster but getting nowhere.




Added on by Spencer Wright.

From a good piece on time and cost estimation in software engineering, emphasis mine:

All software development effort estimation, even when using formal estimation models, requires expert judgment. But although expert judgment can be very accurate, it’s also easily misled. Perhaps the strongest misleading happens when those responsible for the effort estimates, before or during the estimation work, are made aware of the budget, client expectations, time available, or other values that can act as so-called estimation anchors. Without noticing it, those people will tend to produce effort estimates that are too close to the anchors. Knowing that the client expects a low price or a low number of work - hours, for example, is likely to contribute to an underestimation of effort. Expert judgment can also be misled when an estimation request includes loaded words, such as, “How much will this small and simple project cost?”

In spite of much research on how to recover from being misled and how to neutralize estimation biases, no reliable methods have so far been found. The main consequence is that those in charge of effort estimation should try hard not to be exposed to misleading or irrelevant information - for example, by removing misleading and irrelevant information from requirements documentations.

I'm always shocked when a supplier asks me for a target price on a part I've asked them to bid. Customer-driven price anchors are really dangerous; I avoid them at all costs.

The White Moderate

Added on by Spencer Wright.

I've been thinking a lot about what kind of effect I want to have on the world, and this passage of Letter from Birmingham Jail came to me. In case you haven't read it recently, this document is incredibly powerful; I know of no thinker more masterful in his ability to direct the listener towards a particular moral perspective.

Emphasis below is mine.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

More Paul Graham

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Both from "How to Make Wealth:"

When you're starting a business, it's easy to slide into thinking that customers want what you do. During the Internet Bubble I talked to a woman who, because she liked the outdoors, was starting an "outdoor portal." You know what kind of business you should start if you like the outdoors? One to recover data from crashed hard disks.
What's the connection? None at all. Which is precisely my point. If you want to create wealth (in the narrow technical sense of not starving) then you should be especially skeptical about any plan that centers on things you like doing. That is where your idea of what's valuable is least likely to coincide with other people's.


Faced with the idea that people working for startups might be 20 or 30 times as productive as those working for large companies, executives at large companies will naturally wonder, how could I get the people working for me to do that? The answer is simple: pay them to.
Internally most companies are run like Communist states. If you believe in free markets, why not turn your company into one?
Hypothesis: A company will be maximally profitable when each employee is paid in proportion to the wealth they generate.