Data Should Lead to Understanding

In a Baseline Scenario article titled Bad Data James Kwak stated,  “to make a vast generalization, we live in a society where quantitative data are becoming more and more important. Some of this is because of the vast increase in the availability of data, which is itself largely due to computers. Some is because of the vast increase in the capacity to process data, which is also largely due to computers.”  Although computers have made the collection and accumulation of data much easier, so much so that we can get overwhelmed with information, computers are not the reason we are unable to understand and use data appropriately. Continue reading

A Matter of Results

It seems we are obsessed with results.  We conduct life as if results are the only things that matter. To most results by any means are results just the same.  We manage by results, we define problems by results, we define our job by results, we make individuals accountable for results, we cause harm to others in the pursuit of results, we cheat and lie to show results, and we even define our self by the results we get.  Just look around and you will see that results—and getting them now—are all that matters. Continue reading

Either/Or Thinking

The Newtonian-Cartesian dualism that informed the development of our socio-economic system also guides us to think in dichotomous or dualistic terms—win/lose, us/them, liberal/conservative, profit/loss, good/bad, favorable/unfavorable—and also to believe that if something is not quantifiable it isn’t important. Such thinking promotes judgment of experience not learning from experience. Because of this either/or habit of thought we don’t quite understand the depth of our experiences. Continue reading

Objects or Subjects

Newton’s laws of motion afford the quantification of the motion of matter (i.e. objects) and correspondingly by way of calculation the determination of the movement of the objects.   It is because of these laws we can determine the effect of two objects interacting (colliding), such as when a golf club hits a golf ball or what happens when we try to move a large object without applying an adequate external force.

Given that the conception of our system of economics was informed by Newtonian mechanics, it is not surprising to see J.B. Watson’s and B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism—the use of the stimulus-response—informing the methods of management. Just as Newton was able to precisely determine the movement of objects, management theorist and practitioners sought a similar result for the behavior of people. Continue reading

Uncertainty to Chaos

What do you do when faced with uncertainty?  Consider for example that you are scheduled to arrive at a meeting location where you have never been and are uncertain about the length of time it will take to get there, what do you do?  If you are like most you leave a bit earlier, just in case.  Or consider you are not quite sure exactly how many ceramic tiles you will need when remodeling your kitchen, what do you do?  If you are like most you order a little extra, just in case.  I could go on, but I think these two examples are sufficient. Continue reading

Misplaced Attention for Leadership

Seemingly for decades countless studies have failed to develop an operational definition of leadership.  The only clear notion that many seem to advance is that leadership is the property of those persons within the upper echelon of an organization’s hierarchy:  Leadership has become synonymous with a person of position or title—hence the commonly expressed goal of attaining a leadership position.  Correspondingly there also appears to be a tendency toward idol worship of people holding a leadership position.  If you doubt the validity of this assertion just take stock of the articles and books about those at the top of their respective organization who are offered up as models of leadership.  It seems as though there is a book a month holding up a chief executive as an example of leadership for all to emulate. Continue reading

Misinterpreting Data

The March 5, 2010 New York Times headline read, “jobless rate holds steady, raising hopes of recovery”. Apparently it doesn’t take much to raise hope, at least among those doing the reporting.  Why is two consecutive points with the same value (i.e. 9.7% in both January and February) a reason for hope?  Would two consecutively made baskets in basketball constitute a scoring run? How about two winning hands at the blackjack table? Clearly not!  Two points does not constitute a trend.  Thus, the call for hope of a recovery is misleading; the result of a lack of understanding of how to read variation. Continue reading

Mind Before Money

Often those in authority within an organization—frequently referred to as ‘the leadership’—use the thing they believe is valued by most as a way of resolving a complex problem. That is, they throw money at it! While it does cost money to solve problems—energy is often expended—this does not mean that everything can be solved with the offering of money.  A recently announced U.S. government initiative clearly illustrates this common practice.

The U.S. government initiated The Race to the Top that essentially offers a bag of cash—$4.35 billion to be exact—to get the attention of those in authority of public education within each state. However, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, “the U.S. has been trying without much success to spend its way to education excellence for decades.” [It should be noted that although this amount is substantial, it is less than 1% of what is allotted for education nationally in a year.] Continue reading

Connect The Dots

The Christmas Day terrorist attempt on a flight to Detroit highlighted an all too common problem in organizations.  Information may exist but knowledge is not always developed. Business organizations are not immune to the design and management problems we often see in government.  You’ve probably heard, if not your self said, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing! Information is here and there throughout the various functional areas of an organization, but it is not always translated into knowledge—no one connects the dots. Why does an inability to connect the dots exist in organizations? Continue reading

By The Numbers

The economic system has a considerable influence on the way business is conducted since it encourages enterprises operating within it to align with its material growth maximization maxim.  Consequently, economic enterprises are expected not only to seek but to maximize (their) material gain.  Accordingly, those with administrative authority over the enterprise pursue material growth, monetizing all aspects of the company in the process.  That which can’t be quantified is not material and is thus ignored—becoming immaterial in the management of the enterprise. [It is interesting to note that the term immaterial has come to mean irrelevant when in fact it is simply anything that is not material.]  In fact, the effectiveness of a manager is most often determined by the numbers, by his/her P&L statement. Continue reading