Sunday, October 7, 2012

Should we be that concerned about aging demographics?



Recently, I attended a talk on aging demographics and geriatric care.  The speaker has been in the geriatric care area for 15 years.  She lamented that if we keep referring to old people as problems and burdens, then the aging demographics would indeed manifest itself as an enormous problem.  However, if we think of the old people as clients, who would need our cares and as service providers, who would help us explore, face and understand our own mortality and what is important to our lives, then the forthcoming aging demographics would, in fact, be an amazing blessing to our society.

Her words ring true for me.

As I face my own aging parents, I realize that I would give up a lot (certainly a lot of money) to spend quality time with them and to care for them in their old age.  The fact that they will live longer so that I would be more financially capable and flexible to provide them with care in their last 10 years, and that they will be grandparents well into my children’s teenage years (ok, I don’t have kids yet) are blessings.  These are the things that are of tremendous benefits to our civilization.  But, somehow in the popular media, we have treated the increased life expectancy for our parents and their predictable dependency on us for care as enormous calamities and burden.

Yes, our GDP will probably stagnate or even decline. But GDP is such a tiny measure of what is valuable to our society.  GDP is merely a measure of the dollar value of the goods and services we sell to each other.  But much of what is important to a human life is not bought or sold and measured by GDP!  Friendship does not enter into GDP, love and family do not enter into GDP.  A human being caring for another human being and the experiences that we impress on each other do not enter into GDP calculation. 

From the non-$$ dimensions, our parents are every bit as productive as their younger selves.  They might not be able to design or build new commercial products; they are however, exactly capable of being frail parents and doting grandparents.  I have only heard of people, who wished they had more time with their parents and grandparents and of people who gain a deep insight into life through time spent with their dying parents/grandparents. 


In the future, many of us would be, in one form or another, a caregiver to the elderly---whether professionally, or simply as a family member.  But, I hardly see that as a horrible outcome. It, arguably, is just as interesting a life experience providing warm care to another human being as it is to work on a spreadsheet computing another person’s investment return or to lure young kids into buying the latest smart phones.

Some people worry that there will be a lack of doctors to handle all of the needed cares.  I think we simply need to come to the realization that no amount of quality health care---no miracle drugs or operations will keep death away or keep our slow march toward it physically comfortable.  I do have a slight concern that geriatric care might crowd out medical resources for providing other health care to the younger part of our society, but frankly, I expect that our society will make sensible choices when the time comes.

Arguably, when our society is older, we might finally realize that we don’t need a new IPhone every 6 months, a whole new wardrobe every season and a new car every three years.  So, yes, GDP might decline, but it would be because we demand these baubles less, not because we are less capable of paying for baubles.


From the perspective of producing goods and services, it isn’t clear that our society wouldn’t benefit from producing much less of the things that we don’t need at the expense of depleting the raw resources of this planet.  We have been so focused on growing our consumption and calling that progress,that we actually believe that consuming more means a more successful society.  Perhaps, this is the universe's way to remind us that it is time to show our children a different measure for life's success and meaning.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Jason's 1992 Brea Olinda High School Graduation Speech

(While cleaning out drawers from my old desk, I found the typed script for my high school graduation speech resting in a vanilla folder. It reminded me that my 20 year high school reunion is fast upon me. I am amazed that I knew so many words when I was 17.)


Four years. Four years and we are finally here. And tomorrow we will not come back again.

Perhaps we still dreaded school a week ago; perhaps we still secretly begrudged a few teachers and friends last Friday; perhaps just last minute we were excited about leaving and finding a new adventure. But today, this moment, we want so much more to stay; this moment we want so much more to have the assurance of coming back next September and finding this place still securely ours; we are very much afraid.

But we will leave this school in the next hour or so and we will no longer be Brea Olinda seniors but Freshmen somewhere---all over again.

And all the injuries that we have done and forgotten to apologize for, and all the people that we’ve forgotten to love, and all the thanks and compliments we have forgotten to say---with this tear, I beg... I am forgiven.

Four years. Four years and we are finally going. We are the last to have seen the face of the old high school, and with any luck, we may be the last to hear jokes about people flying up to the second floor with their own tables on their backs because the new school had neither stairs nor furniture.

Remember our Freshman year: math in the portables and English in the band room. And how we were genuinely excited about being high school students and how each of us tried in our own fashion to be cool and to look as un-frosh-like as possible; seniors were gods then and they are we now. Though some of us wonder if our transformation was unfinished for the old visage still remains.

Our Sophomore year: a new high school, two principals, life at the top with the rattlesnakes. And we took all liberties with the progressively smaller Freshmen.

Then our Junior year: everyone seemed to have gotten bigger and taller (except for me). Friends started to come in their Mustangs and Trans Ams and Accords---and of course there was Judith’s Stealth. SAT, Achievement, and college paranoia---we began to understand the word ambition.

Finally came our Senior year: November marked our frantic attempts to get admitted to colleges as far away from our home as possible. March, April, May---we prayed for the fat envelopes and hounded the mailbox. May 2, 3, 4 and the many more days in between our college acceptance and graduation---we wondered why we still woke up at seven o’clock to come to our first period class.

This year we realized that it is possible to use up all fourteen absences and even more---Karin and Dawn have taught us how the waivers work.

Four years. In these curious four years we have seen the Ladycats win three state championships, the building of the Brea Marketplace, the Persian Gulf War, the LA riot, and an awesome yearbook (no bias there). We have seen couples breaking up, stories of happily ever afters, tears, laughter, Mr. Johnson sinking in the swimming pool, Mrs. Sweet and her simultaneous combustion and I---B’s. We’ve all learned to be humbled a little bit. Though our dads couldn’t do our math homework anymore, yet we became ever more suspicious, if it is possible, that we are not smarter than our parents after all.

Four years. In every fall we promised that we will; then every summer we wished we did and hoped for the next year and a better start. But now the years have run out. Looking back, perhaps we didn’t rock the world, but we laughed, cried, and loved and it was good.

Four years have gone by; then another four will. And beyond that parking lot will be teachers, entrepreneurs, doctors, musicians, and scientists. The chasing of our dreams---inch by inch we have made ground. The ideal formerly so far away will at once become within grasp. And we will. We are. And we are proud.

There is a piece of sky out there for all of us. Paint it your own color and be proud. For we know you are already a much much better person because you dare to be your own.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Letter to the research team

Dear All,

First of all, thank you for coming to the research lunch presentation.

I am writing this email because I wish to make sure that my key points are not lost on you, due to the confusions that I have injected and created throughout the presentation.

The key takeaways from my presentation are not so much the empirical facts that I have gleamed from the Fama-French 2007 FAJ and other papers. (BTW, you should read those papers yourself, if you want to know them more precisely). The key takeaways are about deeper things.

1. Research, in my experience, is a process largely dominated by people debating, being confused and being unsure. Research is curiosity needing to be satisfied. If you don’t experience a lot of that as you conduct research, then you probably are not doing good research. Research ought not to feel like: what is the minimum that I can do to get someone off of my back.

2. A good research team isn’t about projecting an image of having the right answers. That’s what the marketing team is supposed to do for us—and if our marketing team is any good, they would be able to do that for soothsayers who predict next week’s lotto numbers. A good research team is one that has the ability to ask good and penetrating questions, which further discussions, which then bring new insights.

3. There are empirical regularities that are known to occur historically. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will occur again in the future or not. As econometricians, we tend to assume that the observations are from stationary distributions. We almost always implicitly assume that the future will repeat the past. Empirical regularities, when documented rigorously are like Jim Dethmer’s unarguable truth. They just are what has occurred. Things get very arguable, however, once you try to create a story around it.

4. We give “stories” or “interpretations” to the observed empirical regularities. The high quality stories/interpretations are generally not rejectable and are internally consistent; they are of course compelling and interesting. You should avoid presenting stories/interpretations that lead to predictions, which are clearly rejected by other known empirical regularities. This is why have some command of the empirical literature is useful; it helps you avoid promoting an explanation that is rejected by data.

However, at the very least, you ought to avoid creating a story that is logically inconsistent. This is actually not as easy as you might think; it takes a lot of practice to avoid that embarrassing mistake. For our firm, this is a work in progress. But nonetheless, we are iteratively moving in the right direction as we learn more, debate and as we educate ourselves more. I say far less stupid and illogical things today than a few years ago. I also have reduced the number of hypotheses that I put forth, which are not supported by the empirics.

5. Clean and precise language is super useful, if not outright necessary for a solid scientific debate/discussion. Notice how I have abused nomenclatures and use words to suggest things without clearly defining what I mean---this has led to a lot of confusion and frustrations for people today. Unclear language is akin to writing down equations with variables that are not properly defined and using inconsistent subscripts and superscripts, etc. It makes the discussion and debate completely useless. I feel badly about my utter lack of precision in my language today. It was very bad. Please remind yourself to not make that mistake. I thank Denis and Max for point that out publicly, so that I have the opportunity to share this experience with you all.

6. Don’t believe what senior people (researchers or otherwise) tell you, unless you have thought it through carefully and convinced yourselves. Max does a great job of challenging people (not because he is mean and critical for no good reason). It is really his process for understand what people are telling him. I find his challenges really useful for helping me debug what I am saying with unwarranted confidence. Yes, I can give you bad information because I have been intellectually lazy and am opportunistically saying nice sounding things to pretend that I am smart and knowledgeable. And yes, others will do the same to you.

7. The longer you work in our industry, the more comfortable you will be at saying things that sound semi-logical without really understanding what you are saying. You might even develop resistance to check your facts, to debate or to think. Ultimately, you might only care about “appearing” right and knowledgeable and have no interest in the actual knowledge. While that may not cause any harm if you are on the client facing side (most clients just ignore the complex, nuanced and correct stuff that you are trying to say anyways), it is a very bad practice if you are actually working on research that goes into our products or publications. I notice the tendency in myself as well. Please always stop me when you detect that I am making a claim that is unwarranted by data, research or logic. Please smack me if you notice that I am trying to be opportunistic with our research.

8. My philosophy is that debates are super useful and valuable, even if we are not going to change the product design. Deep knowledge about what we do is valuable. The integrity that is embodied in “knowing” and “learning” is central to the soul of our organization that is built on the claim that we do deep and insightful research. We also brand ourselves as a thought leader who provides public goods by share our knowledge with the industry in a generally unbiased fashion. The minute “knowledge and learning” are not core values in and of themselves but become means to an end (profits to firm), then our activities will be dominated by what is convenient for minimizing cost (research is expensive) and maximizing asset gathering. That path and that culture become irreversible, leading us ultimately to be like any other asset manager---great story-tellers, who product proliferate and who are ultimately largely uninterested in the welfare of clients.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Choosing to do a crappy job

To the demanding perfectionists in our group:

Way too many firms write into their mission and value statements that they seek or deliver excellence.  On the one hand, it seems so motherhood and apple pie that one can hardly object to such aspiration.  But on the other hand, this particular mission "item" could seriously damage an organization.  At best, it becomes an empty platitude, and people simple treat the corporate mission as a slogan instead of a defining value.  At worst, excellence becomes the enemy of the good--creativity, risk-taking and fun are squashed by the heavy-handed executives demanding excellence without regard to resourcing, prioritization and feasibility.

Excellence can so often be a loaded word that gets bent by people to justify blame or blame deflection, as in "things didn't go well because someone else did not do an excellent job."  Really, there is no such thing as excellence.  Like John Wooden says, you can strive for excellence, but there is never truly excellence.  Even then, it is an unproductive strategy to strive for excellence in everything we do.  And, most certainly, it is a horrific strategy to demand excellence in everything that others do in support of us.  

In my mind, there is only optimization subject to constraints.

If you are a start-up with few people, little money but some crazy good ideas, how could you possibly be excellent in compliance, budgeting, operations, etc? In their formative years, most successful firms were not excellent in much of anything.  But, they were exceptional in a few areas that really counted.

Optimization subject to constraints, put in layman's term is just prioritization.

You prioritize when you can't do everything at the same time. You are resource constrained as a person and as a firm. So you cannot possibly be excellent in all things. In fact, if you were a profit maximizing firm, you probably don't want to be excellent in all but a few areas.

Prioritization, put another way, is the conscious act of choosing to do many things poorly. If you are successful at prioritization, hopefully, you will choose to do the things, that do not matter as much, poorly and the important things really well.

My advice to you--try to do a few things poorly.  See what happens.  You will never get good at figuring out what is important and what is not until you prioritize boldly and fail heroically a few times.  Once you master the art of knowing what to ignore or to perform with uninspired effort, you will be a far more effective professional and a far happier person.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

What is the biggest predictor of your team's IQ?


I have often found myself bored and disinterested in meetings, especially in brainstorming meetings. I had always chucked that experience to my personal idiosyncrasy. Afterall, the structure of a brainstorm meeting is supposed to increase engagement and encourage free flowing ideas and creative exchanges. Only more recently did I discover that, according to research, not only do many people find brainstorming meetings to be unproductive and dreadful, experiments also show that brainstorming meetings actually produce less creative ideas!

However, what makes brainstorming fail is not that a collection of people is less able to generate creative ideas than an individual. Research find that it is the rules governing the group interactions, which are the problems. Specifically, research find the mandated politeness and the restriction against criticizing ideas in meetings lead to superficial solutions and shallow thinking. These in turn lead to the much despised outcome of substituting group-think or HPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) for truly critical thinking.

In this article, I cite some literature that I have happened upon in the last few days about group dynamics and creative problem solving.

The first research article shows evidence that group creativity can be significantly higher than the creativity of the smartest individual on the team. This supports the notion of teamwork and collaboration. However, the research also points out that the group creativity can also be substantially reduced by poor group dynamics caused by a domineering personality, fear, etc.

The three research articles that follow discuss a strong predictor of group creativity. A theme that really appeals to me and which seems to find consensus in the management and psychology literature is that dissent is a very necessary ingredient for fostering creativity in group.

I reproduce snippets of the research articles, which I hope would be interesting reads for everyone. I think that the original brainstorming literature did get it almost right—we need everyone, not just the smart or the vocal people, to participate to produce effective team-based creativity. However, to shut off the criticism and debate mechanism, in my opinion, is a mistake. Once you shut that critical thinking outlet off, deep critical thinking also shuts down. The trick, I think, is to abandon the shy/reclusive geniuses, who cannot effectively participate without huge encouragement and without making everyone else feel like they are walking on egg shells. In the modern workforce, individuals who are not effective at “holding their ideas loosely” and “engage in a playful debating of competing ideas” but instead take critical feedback personally and poorly—the presence of these individuals are likely the biggest predictors of low team creativity. 

Group IQ
Research by teams at Carnegie Mellon and MIT
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19530-social-sensitivity-trumps-iq-in-group-intelligence.html
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/12/19/group_iq/?page=1

...evidence has accrued that teams are usurping the central spot once occupied by solo contributors. A 2007 Science study found that in science and engineering, patents, social sciences, and even to some extent in the arts and humanities, there is a shift at work — new knowledge is increasingly being produced by teams…

…we still attribute too much to individuals and not enough to groups. Part of that may just be that it’s simpler; it’s simpler to say the success of a company depended on the CEO for good or bad, but in reality the success of a company depends on a whole lot more… there is also a seemingly inescapable impulse to search in a group for the narrative of the individual... People gravitate toward stories of individuals who matter, despite the fact that much of human history has been shaped not by one person at a time but by networks of people…

… [Surprisingly] neither the average intelligence of the group members nor the intelligence of the smartest member played much of a role in the overall group intelligence. Social sensitivity [was] by far the most important factor…The paper extends previous research in showing that versatile high-impact teams aren't always driven by the highest or lowest-IQ member, but by team processes…

…also found that groups with overbearing leaders who were reluctant to cede the floor and let the others talk did worse than those in which participation was better distributed and people took turns speaking. The team also found that groups in which members took turns speaking were more collectively intelligent, as were groups containing a majority of women…this may be because the women had higher levels of social sensitivity than the men…


Group Dynamics for Teams
by Daniel Levi, Ph.D.
http://books.google.com/books/about/Group_dynamics_for_teams.html?id=95r9Qs_GYlUC
…Using groups to develop creative solutions to problems has its benefits: Compared to single individuals, groups are able to develop more ideas. The social interaction of working in groups can be rewarding. Groups can create supportive environments that encourage creativity. Diverse groups are more likely than homogeneous groups to develop creative solutions…

…One key to encouraging group creativity is dissent (Nemeth, 1997). A group with creative conflicts
produces ideas that are more creative. When the group is exposed to contradictory ideas from some members, the thinking of the majority is stimulated, producing ideas that are more creative. Dissent stimulates divergent thinking and encourages the group to view an issue from multiple perspectives. It encourages more original and less conventional thoughts about the issue… 

The liberating role of conflict in group creativity: A study in two countries
By Charlan Nemeth, Bernard Personnnaz, Marie Personnaz and Jack Goncalo
https://www.ilr.cornell.edu/directory/ja26531/downloads/Liberating_role_of_conflict_in_group_creativity.pdf

…Researchers of group creativity have noted problems such as social loafing, production blocking, and especially, evaluation apprehension. Thus, brainstorming techniques have specifically admonished people ‘not to criticize’ their own and other’s ideas, a tenet that has gone unexamined. In contrast, there is research showing that dissent, debate and competing views have positive value, stimulating divergent and creative thought. Perhaps more importantly, we suggest that the permission to criticize and debate may encourage an atmosphere conducive to idea generation. In this experimental study, traditional brainstorming instructions, including the advice of not criticizing, were compared with instructions encouraging people to debate—even criticize. A third condition served as a control. This study was conducted both in the United States and in France. Results show the value of both types of instruction, but, in general, debate instructions were superior to traditional brainstorming instructions. Further, these findings hold across both cultures… 

Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth
by Jonah Lehrer
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/01/30/120130fa_fact_lehrer
https://whyweprotest.net/community/threads/groupthink.99379/

...the increasing complexity of human knowledge, coupled with the escalating difficulty of those remaining questions, means that people must either work together or fail alone. But if brainstorming is useless, the question still remains: What’s the best template for group creativity?

Nemeth’s studies suggest that the ineffectiveness of brainstorming stems from the very thing that Osborn thought was most important... “While the instruction ‘Do not criticize’ is often cited as the important instruction in brainstorming, this appears to be a counterproductive strategy. Our findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition. Osborn thought that imagination is inhibited by the merest hint of criticism, but Nemeth’s work and a number of other studies have demonstrated that it can thrive on conflict.

According to Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. “There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is to stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings,” she says. “Well, that’s just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive...”

In a way the power of dissent is the power of surprise. After hearing someone shout out an errant answer, we work to understand it, which causes us to reassess our initial assumptions and try out new perspectives. “Authentic dissent can be difficult, but it is always invigorating.”...

Criticism allows people to dig below the surface of the imagination and come up with collective ideas that aren’t predictable...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Research and Football

As someone who manages research at a quantitative investment shop, I often get asked the following question: " How does one manage a research team to develop creative and innovative strategies?"

I think my answer to this question might surprise people.  I see product research and strategy research as a very limited part of a researcher's daily work.  Let me use a sports analogy.  What makes a great NFL player is not the showing up 16 Sunday afternoons to play a game for 3 hours.  It is all of the practice, training, conditioning, film watching, etc. that occurs in between the Sundays and throughout the off-season.  If you do the hard work off the field, come Sunday, god willing, you are going to have your fair share of wins.

It works the same way in research.  The ability to produce thoughtful and intelligent investment solutions come from doing the “foundation works” daily to achieve mastery.  Once a researcher has achieved a certain level of mastery in a few areas in financial research, only then can he be count on to realistically and reliably deliver thoughtful and creative strategy research. 

So what are the foundation works?  And how does one attain mastery? 

First of all, mastery in a science is a moving target.  Frankly the frontier of financial research is expanding daily.  It’s awfully hard to keep up.  Foundation works are (1) reading new academic and practitioner articles by highly rated researchers in one’s fields of interest, (2) re-reading highly cited papers and follow the various threads in the same literature to understand how the science has evolved, (3) replicating interesting papers to understand all of the warts, data peculiarity as well as gain intuition on the data and the empirics, (4) attend meaningful conferences to hear critical discussions on the latest research papers, (5) working on research papers with other academics to practice clear exposition, to discipline one’s intuition with careful mathematical derivation and empirical validation, and (6) to submit oneself to the independent refereeing process through publication.

Just like in other things, there are few short cuts, if any, in achieving research success.  It takes a lot of off the field work, which are not geared directly toward producing the final product.  Just like lifting weights and running wind sprints do not lead directly to catching a football for a touchdown.  Of course by no mean does being strong and being able to run fast for 4 hours lead to catching a touchdown pass---but your chances are better if you are strong and fast.  It’s the same concept in financial research.
Perhaps it sounds counter-intuitive.  I would say that most researchers are not sitting around trying to think-outside-the-box or trying to come up with the next big killer app.  It’s not that they shouldn’t be doing those things.  It is that you can’t do those things very successfully if you don’t spend a lot of your time training to achieve mastery. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Defensiveness

Dear Team,

One of the most basic and immediate behaviors that we can work on and hold each other accountable is around reducing and ultimately eliminating "defensive behaviors". 
We are shooting to be an exceptional firm.  So we assume that none of you will exhibit defensive behaviors in the traditional sense.  Like “raising your voice in indignation” or “starting to blame other people” or “retaliating by pointing out all of the shortcomings of the person giving you feedback”, etc.  So this requires that we discuss the more subtle forms of defensiveness and why they might be bad for our individual development and team collaboration.

Here is how I understand "defensive behaviors"--defensiveness encompasses all behaviors which reduce your ability (likelihood) to learn and better yourself.  So eliminating defensiveness is, first and foremost, an exercise which benefits ourselves rather than for the benefit of others.

I think a good way for a "quant" to understand what this means is by thinking about the Bayesian updating (learning) mechanism.  There are two key components in Bayesian updating—1. The intensity of new information arrival and 2. The weight given to the prior belief in the updating of the posterior belief.  The Bayesian agent learns quicker when he is benefited by greater new information flow and when he assigns a lower weight to his prior belief.

Let’s map this to the topic at hand.
If you show hostility [argue heatedly with people who give you critical feedback] or lack of interest [try to end conversation quickly] or pain [cry or become depressed] when receiving feedback, people will stop giving you feedback.  This is equivalent to not receiving new information.
If you have an attitude that you are right and not wrong and that other people just don’t have the information to give you useful feedback or provide criticisms, then you essentially assign 100% weight to your prior.  All new information are discarded and no updating (learning) is possible.

You might ask, “what if people give you bad/useless feedback because they really don’t have their facts straight and they really aren’t very bright (so can’t really process facts into useful feedback anyways)?” 

Certainly, some discretion is required in taking feedback.  We do not recommend that you go to random people and ask for feedback; that would not be an effective way to learn.  Using our Bayesian learning example again, the Bayesian agent learns more effectively, when he assigns his updating weight in accordance with the quality of the information.

Our assumption is that you are receiving feedback and criticisms from people who are reasonable, who interact with you regularly and whom you need to collaborate with to create team success.  In which case, it would be irrational for you to believe that there are no useful information content in their criticisms or that you are 100% right when people’s view are different from yours.  


When people tell you that you have a bad habit which makes them not excited about collaborating with you on projects--to assume that their personality issues, instead of your bad habit, are what drive the difficulty in collaboration would show a complete inability to learn about yourself and therefore an inability to improve yourself.  You need to work with other people to create success, even if other people are indeed difficult and have bad personality; creating team success means creating success with the team that is dealt to you.  To question the validity of a complaint instead of distilling the 5% truth in the allegation would mean that you have again rejected an opportunity to learn.  The more adept you are at rejecting the validity of a criticism that you receive, the less you will learn and grow.  The more creative you are at finding the 5% truth in a otherwise reactive, emotional and poorly phrased criticism, the more you will learn and grow.

Implicit in Bayesian updating (learning) is a focus on extracting the useful part of the information and discarding the noise.  You don’t just collect information which is 100% correct for updating your prior.  You collect information with a lot of noise to update your prior, which is also noisy and potentially far from the truth.  The best updating algorithms, of course, use additional variables to help assess the quality of the information (assume heteroskedacity in the noise of information) and thereby vary the weights given to the prior for the updating. 

So to optimize your learning: 
(1) you should display an attitude and demeanor which encourages a lot of feedback from people who work with you (increase intensity of new information flow),
(2)  you should avoid an attitude of hubris which assumes that feedback which you don’t agree with are useless, and you should avoid focusing your energy on explaining why the feedback really is not useful (based on bad information or bad logic); instead you should try to be creative at distilling the component of the feedback which is insightful/useful,
(3)  you should develop expertise in assessing the quality of the feedback you receive as to not over-update or under-update with new information.

There is, of course, a place and time for clarifying facts and explaining yourself.  These are very important activities.  They lead to better information sharing, better understanding and better decisions.  However, they do not lead to you learning and improving yourself.  So these activities are not emphasized in our discussion regarding curiosity and learning.  These activities may improve other people’s learning, however. 
My parting caution is simply that if your creative energy and your focus in a conversion are mostly occupied by the desire to and the preparation for clarifying and explaining, your ability to actually receive information, to revise your belief system and to objectively assess the quality of the information source (for future updating) will likely be stunted.

My suggestion:  focus on the learning part first.  Listen carefully and be creative in seeing how the criticism has valid parts.  Acknowledge the criticism and express appreciation for the information.  Then, carefully assess whether your clarifying of facts or explaining the situation would effectively bring about learning for other people and lead to better understanding and decision making.  If so, then very clearly state that you would like to provide your perspective as well.

*Note that many people operate under the classical inference system instead of the Bayesian system.  They start with a null hypothesis that they are right.  Every new piece of information which arrives is assess against the null at 95% confidence.  Almost all information which suggest that the null is wrong (that the person in question is not correct in a situation) can be understood as noise at 95% confidence level.  Only very rarely would a piece of evidence be so strong, so far from the null, that the person is forced to reject the null and modify his belief somewhat.  I would generally recommend against this system of learning.  Because the only time you will learn under this approach would be when a disaster that you cannot  recover from whacks you on the head.

Managing the firm from the world view of abundance

To my friends and colleagues,

I was having dinner with a wonderful friend, who happens to also be a Jim Dethmer trainee.  A topic came up about scarcity.  I thought I share that discussion with you.  

It is said that when we operate from a place of scarcity, our animal instinct is to be defensive, to attack and/or to horde.  When we see the world through the lens of scarcity, the primal self-preservation instinct takes over and it over-rides other higher functions.  In that state, we are operating in fear, we think in zero-sum and approach life with unhelpful amount of seriousness instead of curiosity, creativity, sharing and fun.

However, if we can make the shift to see the world through abundance, our self-preservation instinct—that animal meanness—goes away.  There is enough for everyone.  There is opportunity to co-create more.  In that world, seriousness goes away and there is actual time and energy to have fun and be fun.

So, what does this have to do with running an organization?

A few years ago, at a time before my firm started its path toward organizational consciousness, I believe that the team saw the world through scarcity.  We saw the firm as a small pie with limited resources to be fought for and divided.  There weren’t enough good projects, good opportunities, promotions, bonus money, etc. etc.  People horded information, people bickered over promotions/projects/opportunities, people were not collaborative with other groups, etc.  These were, of course, a reflection of the leader; I saw the world through scarcity.  The entire firm, the entire management, saw the world through scarcity.   When people believed in scarcity, no amount of reciting the mission statement to collaborate, to share, to help, etc. would translate to positive action—there is just no rational benefit to share, to give when the belief system was rooted in “not enough”.

Today, I feel constant appreciation for what is here and now in our team.  The world view that lives amongst us is abundance.  People believe that there are enough wonderful projects, opportunities, money, resources, advancements, mentoring, etc. for all.  People believe in their ability and the opportunity to co-create more.  Every day, I experience wonderful collaboration, sharing, giving and helping.  I have an enormous appreciation to you all for operating from a mentality of abundance, from a place of possibilities and opportunities.

Jason