Changes we notice and changes we choose 


I suspect you are a mobile addict. You don’t have to be obsessed and have the device in arms reach at every moment to qualify. You merely have to rely on its always connected capabilities to keep you “plugged” in to your connections, and by default the world. 

The speed at which mobile technologies have been adopted has been unprecedented, and I am less interested in its occurrence, and more interested in unraveling its meaning and understanding what changes will unfold next. This post invites you to consciously evaluate the range of activities that tether you to this device, and the choices you can make next.

An overwhelming number of people check their device for “messages” within their first waking moments. In the not-too-distant past, messages waited to be picked up in the variety of places where they were left.

A missed caller could leave messages on answering systems, that replaced secretaries who made and pass a note. This task was automated by machines who accurately recorded the caller, and refrained from edits or shorthands. The machines soon became embedded into answering systems with retrieval now possible remotely.  You could call in to learn who had called.

Email, a desktop computer application, was faster than the post office, and quickly displaced the fax machines for sharing documents or lengthier detailed messages.  Cheaper computing, networks expanded Email from an office communications system to personal. Not only was it faster than regular mail, it was significantly cheaper than calling and more convenient. 

Now, all messaging systems are neatly available in your single mobile device, and your messaging interests and practices routine, if not obsessive.

How does this capability to be more on top of your communications make you feel?

Does this combination of access make you feel more effective, responsible, efficient  or something else? Are the experiences and emotions associated with interaction or the anticipation of the interaction? when and why does the experience become distracting or chaotic? 

Workflow

I’m asking this questions, because I have a hypothesis that needs testing. I believe it’s the small stuff we change that leads us astray from our original purpose or focused intent.

Distractions come in many forms and largely occur when our attention wanders. Driving for example, our focus should be on the road, the vehicles and conditions. Instead , we’re typically multitasking while driving, Whether the division of our attention happens by listening to the radio, engaging in conversation with a passenger, or on the phone ,  or just the flow of other thoughts.

Diversion is candy to the brain. It’s how small stuff easily adds up. The sideways glance that misses what’s ahead robs our attention,  scatters our focus, can delay our progress and mar our effectiveness.

Any efficiency we built in to our process are quickly filled by the abundance of new opportunities, the change in process enables.

Here’s the rub, it’s at the moment of learned efficiency that we choose either to keep learning or we move on to a new domain.  In both cases, we have reached a level of effectiveness and masters keep moving up while the rest of us begin a steady ascent of decline.  This has been documented as the learning curve aka the efficiency curve, and it’s that pivot moment that interest me.

My hypothesis is that it’s in those moments of awareness of the pivot point that innovation begins.

Process changes: Innovation, Invention or Improvisation

I invite you to consider the value of anticipation, or the expected emotions that flow in a particular situation. For example, we want a celebration event to end on a happy note.  Likewise we want our decisions to also produce positive outcomes, but that’s the problem, not all of our behaviors result from conscious decisions.  When driven by habit, the small stuff that changes escapes our notice. That’s both good and bad.

For example,  no matter where you live on the planet, the time of sunrise and sunset changes daily and we generally don’t notice or feel those effects. We do experience the differences relatively over long periods of time, such as the longer days of one season vs. shorter days in another.

The same is true over the little changes we make every day in the use of our mobile device. Perhaps you have grown aware that you are using it differently than you did a year ago, but you don’t know exactly why or what you are doing differently.  Of course some of the changes have been controlled by the businesses who are using agile methodologies to constantly release improvements in the look, speed and functions available on the screen.  The more these businesses issue changes, so does your behavior.

So, have you taken the time to reflect and assess your own set of personal habits and processes?  Have you considered the cumulative effect on your employees of these external changes and its effect on their productivity, their effectiveness and your overall efficiency?

I did, and reflect on my processes pretty regularly. It’s the bane of being a consultant, I need to understand and tinker with things in order to keep up to date and provide relevant information to solve client’s business problems.

I always asked lots of questions, the biggest difference in my process happens to be the research process.  In the past, I was a very avid reader of the New York Times and dutifully ventured to my front door half asleep to pick up the paper and begin scanning the headlines.  Later I went to the Wall Street Journal and slowly opted to skip the chore of recycling the old newsprint, and read the headlines on my phone through the convenience of their respective apps, or use my desktop.  The thing is, the biggest change? Neither one of these newspapers remains my #one information source or morning view.  In fact, I stopped reading the New York Times entirely for a while, because as email habits led me to click open the inbox, other publications had more interesting headlines and their content became a more interesting set of sources.

Better still, the minute I opt to share an article with a colleague, I’m no longer in email but a new application that the team chose to use less to keep our inbox clear, but to insure we were finding and able to keep and organize the messages.  Naturally some of our remote global team members would notice I was online and would shout out to me via Google Chat.  Those who were using the proprietary platform we built, would post and the site would automatically trigger an email notification to encourage other members to respond.

I discovered that my own process, work habits and overall effectiveness ebbs and flows with the connected capabilities of the underlying platforms I find myself using.  I’m not suggesting that having one is a good idea, but I also know that it’s valuable to impose some discipline and standards for the teams in which I work.  It’s way too easy to be online, for example this post began as a voice transcription using my phone.  The longer it got, the sooner I had to move to a bigger screen and so I jumped to my desktop to continue.  Inevitably, there was a sync delay. Later, I  had to reconcile the two versions on the two separate devices.

I would welcome thoughts on if and when you personally, or your team revisits your work processes and to what extent efficiency or effectiveness plays a role.  Please share, and if you would be willing to be part of larger research drop me a line.

 

Just Try It!


 

Hey, Mikey Likes It!

What’s not to like? Try it!

That’s what my mother would say when her children looked suspiciously at unfamiliar food on their plates.  Growing up,the rule was that you had to eat everything on the plate, or at least try it.  Later, my father modified the rule  to you don’t have to like it, but you had to eat it.  It’s how I came to eat asparagus with a glass of milk chaser and how our dog was well fed.

Clearly, not everything that we do,  or feel compelled to do is likeable.  The doing however can and often does prove incredibly satisfying. Likewise, adding knowledge or understanding also makes any activity satisfying. Doing alters what we know. The coordination effort forces us to focus on details we often overlook, or fail to consider relevant and our actions lead us to understand the task differently than our first evaluation. The expression “easier said, than done,” ring a bell?

Experience and experiment, both French words, describe the process of trying, attempting, a trial or the testing of an idea or impulse. The result? We gain new insights and  understanding when we integrate multiple sensory data points at once–as when things we see requires us to coördinate our moves.

I hear and  forget.
I see and I remember.
I Do and I understand.

Confucius wasn’t the only one to understand the power of coordinated multi-sensory input.  Most learning happens informally and when left to chance the results are counterproductive.  Unlearning or replacing what we know with new information requires confrontation; since we find it easy to adapt to a slight change of circumstance when we recognize the common link.  The history of putting wheels on boxes is quite lengthy but it is only very recently that wheels appeared on suitcases, crazy right? Not really. Perceptions often create barriers that are not easily crossed, particularly when formed from a cultural association and not from  direct experience.  Take a second and think about a  restaurant.  Naturally which one, its kind or style that you imagined reflects a choice among numerous variations. What you know about or understand about restaurants as in how to get served, how to dress etc are secondary to the restaurant you imagined; yet they come together as one package of knowledge that determines your behavior.

Experience vs. Source

Information Central

Information Central (Photo credit: pjern)

Try thinking about Africa. Consider how you came to know about it. Africa, per Wikipedia, represents the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world with 54 sovereign countries. These facts differ from my intense study in 1969 of the continent in  my sixth grade classroom. I mention it as illustration of the double bind that catches the education system. Like Wikipedia, the material presented to students is as dynamic as the individual contributors to the system but recourse built into the latter may be inappropriately applied.  Should we rate the quality of sources differently than we do a vocation?  Imagine comparing student learning from Wikipedia vs. an educator who has little flexibility in choosing the content requirements used to evaluate their performance. As a student, my sixth grade teacher gave me experiences to collect information from a variety of sources, refashion it to make it meaningful and most importantly encouraged me to keep learning, stay curious and continue to revise what I learned.  We brought the daily headlines into the classroom to share and inspired me to take an ongoing interest in the news.

Gauging Knowledge

045/365 - Comfort Zone

045/365 – Comfort Zone (Photo credit: TheRogue)

Can one gauge that measures knowledge also measure understanding? Who determines sufficiency or the necessary amount? In the US, each grade level has a set of achievement standards at both the Federal level  and state level.

Achievement can be obvious though knowledge and understanding are fluid.  Typically, repeating a fact demonstrates what we know and our ability to recall it without necessarily understanding what the fact means. For example, US middle school students all study the US constitution, and law students do too; but few possess constitutional knowledge comparable to supreme court justices. The justices’ responsibility call for them to understand the constitution at a level of articulation that is actionable.  What I know or believe may not matter or may prove incomplete relative to their ruling.

It’s not just the gauge, but the dynamics of how and what we know changes both externally and internally.  Every one of our senses has equal access to the input in our environment; and yet very little activates our consciousness and not all the input gets tagged to the same experience. In addition the input gets sorted for relevance. Memory reflects the recall coincident of relevant, sensory input associated together. No wonder no two people can recall the same event identically? It’s also why repetition makes us better.

Do anything again and your attention shifts from the first experience memory.  Additional information gets added and tagged for its relevance.  Even if the first time triggered a negative emotion, such as fear, anger or anxiousness, it added more information  to your memory. Emotion does serve as our lookout scout.  It will steer us clear from upsetting circumstances and raise internally doubt or trust issues.

Try it, you'll like it!As this famous Alka Seltzer commercial reminds us, one bad taste makes us unlikely to repeat the experience.  Similarly a new experience when our senses find a near match to an earlier experience, it may get tagged as suspect. Trying something may require us to overcome a prior, related experience. The action taken becomes more meaningful when we attach or identify benefits.  The attachments also impact our willingness to try the same or related experience.

Is open mindedness really possible? Yes,  if you recast open-mindedness as an interest in knowing more and deepening an understanding. Moments of relaxation and comfortable situations make it easier to acquire new information.  In contrast, our natural movements especially those that require no conscious thought, saves us the trouble of processing new information.  The more efficient we become the less we take time to focus on details that differentiate every moment’s passing. Failure to notice, cuts an experience short, underestimates its significance and we move on.

Without notice, there’s no understanding, very little satisfaction and no wonder we feel less accomplished for time spent. Assuming an active focus will engage more of our senses and quickly exhaust us.  It takes energy to reconcile previously held ideas and beliefs to the immediacy of our reality.

Think shopping.  Regardless of what and where you set out to buy something, chances are the expectation may not hold up in the store. More choices or features

It’s why I stop myself from justifying the merits of something and am keen on having people experience for themselves.  Long ago, my movie course instructor warned us to avoid reading reviews before viewing the film.  Sitting and letting the director reveal the story to me does indeed make the film and my experience fresh. If the movie is good, I may need to see it a second time to catch what I missed.  Repeat viewing allows me to deepen my understanding and see things I may have initially missed.

Think about how rarely we get the chance to repeat an experience. Did your appreciation change with repetition?

The socialization we experience of learning in the classroom biases us to expect teachers to know more than students.  understood on movies  I still count by tapping my fingers and don’t hesitate to see if I can fix things myself.  In short, I try first and ask questions later.

Am I old-fashioned?  No, I merely acknowledge that I learn to do better by direct experience.  Thinking is another form of doing and perhaps the limited opportunity to experience some ideas, make them difficult to revise?   Why do I think that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes? What active experience will help me test this idea and see if it works?  Or the idea that bank CEOs are overpaid?

Stay tuned, the idea of adjusting sensibilities continues!

 

Big Data and more statisticulation


by Irving Geis in How to Lie with StatisticsToday’s New York Times made my hair stand on end. Kenneth Chang’s piece,  Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value,  admirably points out how easy it is to confuse the public. The article raises good questions about research methods, standing by institutional reputation not merit.  I wonder  Is this  just another sign of academic practice needing a bit of a makeover?

The Case in point

Stanford, whose sterling reputation lifted higher with news celebrating its latest Nobel prize winning economist, added new fodder to the debate of organic vs. traditional agriculture methods and practices.  The respect enjoyed by Stanford university and its published research shuts down public questioning and personally, reminded me of Darrell Huff‘s 1954 slim volume How to Lie with StatisticsA sentiment also captured whimsically by  Irving Geis in his  illustration(shown on the left)  in the same volume.

Huff coined the phrase “statisculation,” to refer to those who use statistical material to misinform people.  Chang’s article doesn’t judge. He merely helps  innocent readers understand something about meta-analysis, a perfectly acceptable method that produces very useful and cost-effective insights by re-examining other researchers’ data. Also customary in scientific circles, the Stanford published results and conclusions, raise questions and challenges pressed by other researchers.

The problem is that this dispute and airing works for closed loop academic circles where everyone understands and accepts the evaluation process, and accepts that knowledge and acceptance never comes with only one paper.  Chang’s article points out that Kirsten Brandt, the scientist who led the England Newcastle University published 2011 study  though also a meta analysis, produced very different results, did not enjoy the wider public audience and hit the social media airwaves.  Consumers  making daily buying decisions instead are made vulnerable by sound bytes shared by those who stand to benefit the most from the Stanford University researchers’ findings–that organic doesn’t offer material differences.

On average Stanford’s findings may be true, but since when do we actually care about the average?  The tomato I buy isn’t average, and how, where and when its produced changes its quality.  For example, this year the drought didn’t produce the same volume or quality of tomatoes locally as last year. Chances are the nutritional quality differs too. So why would averages across geography and year prove meaningful to compare?

Big Data and its ongoing hype does offer  greater opportunity. The capability to look at and analyze more attributes, makes it possible to discover more relationships. produce new insights, increase our understanding of subtle differences into the relationship between things or ideas.  The cost/benefits of this explosion of hype around the promise of big data and analytics however in the short-term may prove disproportionately beneficial.  As the Chang article illustrates, more data doesn’t improve the analysis quality. Limited capability to test and engage in the healthy scientific defense process, may lead to greater manipulations or statisticulation.

Few people capably and competently understand differences in error terms or appreciate that some reported differences just aren’t as significant as others because the method relied on averages and not the full range of the distribution. If I’ve already lost you, then perhaps you should take a look at Darrell Huff’s book.

Required reading for any published author and every student is a basic primer in statistics.

 

Medicare, time to replace the model


Problems, by in large are man-made.  Humans, among all living beings, are the only ones who actively make their own environment, and specifically the cultural constructs of that environment.

Sure animals show similar behaviors, birds build nests and ward off other intruders; but animals don’t prosecute killers, nor does the animal kingdom employ different species  to build out their environment.

Unemployment or the Federal Deficit are both human problems  of our own making.  Irrespective of the choices made,  passive or  active, logically motivated or merely “the right thing to do,” problems arise from some break down  in objective  reality.

Today David Brooks , New York Times column  entitled Where Wisdom Lives, describes the philosophical choices the Republican Party and Democratic Party must face to resolve the Medicare problem and present political  logjam.  For all his brilliance and clear understanding of the interdependent pieces that have brought Medicare to this looming state of insolvency, he uses his answer to define the problem.   Good  technique for effective communication, but not a good fit for problem solving.   His mention of  Medicare’s basic structural flaw–reimbursement as pay for service model, suggests an alternative assessment.

What problem exactly was Medicare intended to resolve?  Wikipedia describes Medicare simply as a social health insurance, providing those eligible to receive “covers 80% of the Medicare approved amount of any given medical cost.”   So is the problem the insurance or the costs? or social coverage?

The Pay for Service model, a wonderful cultural construct and mental model of  healthcare delivery  matches the model used in the care and health of automobiles.  Auto insurance policies are structured very similarly to health insurance plans.  Correspondingly, these models also shape government regulations that curb the practices of the insurers, mandate coverage and resolve claims.  Fundamental differences between cars and people seem  entirely irrelevant when choosing or defining the problem that Medicare in its current model solves.

Cars are disposable and replaceable; and the marketplace  determines both reimbursement limits and clear, directional prices that consumers and insurers incorporate in their choices.  Where is the human depreciation schedule, or  the human after market and blue brook valuation equivalent  to those that exist in the automobile market?  No matter how abhorrent an idea, these do exist in part created by Medicare and the Federal government.  In the automobile insurance market, there’s no philosophical debate about when to send a  car to the junkyard or rebuilt.  Not all body shops’ repair or service estimates match nor do every insurer’s reimbursement.  The insurer establishes the limits of what it will pay, and the insured chooses replacement or repair.

In the healthcare system, insurers may expect a co-payment or ask that you obtain  pre-certification before a procedure, but people rarely, if ever, are given a cost estimate.  Most health practitioners couldn’t give one  if they wanted to.  Billing departments set the price and the invoice reflects what Medicaid, or the insurers have negotiated for reimbursement.   At the auto shop, if it’s an insurance related claim, sure there is some pricing adjustments.  But for the majority of service, maintenance or repairs, the repair shop provides the estimate. Then based on an understanding of the cost and relative perception of value, its possible to negotiatewhat work  is done   When our body may  need “repairs,” or “servicing” doctors increasingly review the pros and cons of the different alternatives with us, but cost does not enter the conversation., other than whether insurance may or may not cover the procedure.

In short, the pay for service model is NOT the model of healthcare in the US , because the choices we make are not based on price, they are based on a higher ethical or moral standard of care.  For Automobile service, price is directly linked to the  election of a transaction for service.  Choices for obtaining healthcare services are often made for us, not by us.  Who is making the choice for whom?  Perhaps the idea of Medicare was to make it clear that eligible people would get the healthcare they need.  Philosophically the burden for charitable care was shifted to society, the public and off the care providers…for both medicare and medicaid.  The arrangements for payment preceded the mechanisms for pricing and though adjustments have been made,  the absence of clear market signals compromise the objectivity of any proposed change. Market signals may be inappropriate for healthcare services, and the recent downturn have demonstrated that even a well established market system like the automobile industry couldn’t respond swiftly enough and required governement assistance.

David Brooks  points to the  two parties opposing philosophies that pit wider market driven control against central planning.  What it doesn’t do however is help us use our experiences with a very broken pay for service system to recognize how badly this model fits the consumption process of health care delivery. Rather than getting stuck in a philosophic debate, or stoking the fire of fear, can’t we find a better fitting model?

Goodness of fit test for a model?

Ever been asked to solve a story problem?  Fit, is crucial  when  choosing a method, or evaluating which  different math  model best matches  the information and situation presented in the story or problem.  Wikpedia on solving math problems explains :

“This question can be difficult to answer as it involves several different types of evaluation.”

Likewise, here is a more complete explanation of matching models and problems that teachers:

” In this step a chose of how to solve the problem will have to be made. The choice could be as simple as writing a math equation. More complex problems may require the formulation of an algebra problem or the use of a problem solving strategies. Strategies such as guess and check, draw a picture and work backwards can be used on many types of problems. Sometimes more than one strategy will work on problem in which case the solver can select their favorite strategy or use the easiest one.
Read more at Solving a Math Story Problem: Five Easy Steps for Completing Any Problem

Much of the debate continues to focus on philosophy. The  insurance model  doesn’t fit the larger understanding of the problem.  Evidence points to runaway costs, or services untethered to a cost based evaluation where there is no market mechanism  to help providers and recipients  make a service choices. Just as a car that goes in for regular maintenance is cheaper then the breakdown on the road, the missing cost signals have also compromised  both our attitudes and service mechanisms to provide lower cost maintenance health regimens.  Likewise, it is difficult to discuss quality of care in the absence of cost.  Not every investment to prolong life may prove qualitatively appropriate, yet insurance companies are making the call for us.  If that is morally repugnant, then let’s find a some common ground and then move forward before it’s too late.

Costs of Care , a social venture non-profit organization committed to greater transparency of costs in healthcare delivery offers this model:

In the American political system, our ability to get mired in philosophic debate is  ever present.  Our ability to find the best frame , or clarify our intentions and find the best model match is imperfect at best.  But there’s no time to waste if we are serious about tackling ticking time bombs like Medicare.

I’d be pleased to hear further thoughts or  suggestions that might help either redefine the problem or be a better fit for the problem as defined.

Performance measurements: Coming up short


My fascination with verifiable outcomes is not very unique. After all, Americans take great pride in being able to measure  as a demonstration of cause and effect.  Data bolsters our confidence in evaluating why something works, or helps us defend a decision,  irrespective of industry or , the services provided.  What would we do without stars that appear adjacent a movie, new book or product, or the win-loss record that informs us about our  team’s performance?  In business, we rely on Return on Equity or Returns on Investment as our compass.  Important legislation waits for the Congressional Budget Office Cost estimations and a series of published statistics produced at regular intervals by our government set the legislative and implementation standards –the Consumer Price Index or of personal relevance to most seniors, COLA, the Cost-of Living Adjustment  which determines the level of social security benefits.

Few of us stop to assess the appropriateness, relevance–absolute or relative of  the indicators we reference.  When was the last time you differentiated cardinal vs ordinal rankings when committing resources?    We love to make lists and rank our preferences too.  The top ten movies of the year, the top-selling products, or nice rankings similar to those shown to the right..we love  top performers , or do we?  Does top really point out quality?  Elicit our support or even further incent us to add our votes?

Ranks are merely a means of sorting, and so its value  is independent and bears no causal relationship to effects.  Frequently, order can fool us;  when what matters is the context for the indicator and how we create  the  indicator showing order.  Just because we can count something doesn’t make it relevant.   A poll among three-year olds on the merits of healthcare reform would not be very instructive.  I could tabulate the height and weight of all the kindergartener on the first day of class and the last day of class.  Can I honestly attribute the success of the teacher that year to the difference realized?  Let’s hope that no one is trying.  But you would be surprised by the number of organizations who are attempting similar fool hardy cause and effect linkages.  What conclusion are we supposed to draw from the charts below?

Plenty of folks have devised causal profitability measures–especially non-financial performance indicators.  If you’re trying to employ meaningful measurements in your business, it’s worth taking a look at the challenges summarized  by two accounting professors and  published in HBR November 2003, “Coming up short on non-financial performance Measurement.”

Bottom line?  There are lots of caveats to our list making, rating preference behavior.  Before determining the task futile, when your own methods  fail to deliver results, I suggest putting each of your measures to a simple test.  Do your underlying assumptions have validity?  How well have they proved themselves to mirror reality?   Doing so will not only help you uncover the real value in your organization but also help you allocate resources to perpetuate both your values and the returns you are ultimately seeking.