Handpicked: Gender Barriers and Pay Gap, Thinking Hats, and Communist Index Funds

Back again, after a short break.

A throwaway line in The Ezra Klein Show between Ezra and Malcolm Gladwell led to the break. They were discussing the need to allow time for reflection. To process and digest what you are learning and taking in. Malcolm Gladwell does this while out running.

I haven’t been doing that. Particularly with podcasts and audio books.

Some of you have commented on how I get through so much. Well … I have my headphones on nearly any spare minute outside of the house and the office, in particular when walking.

Walking is a great time for thinking. But if you are in consumption mode, you are not digesting and processing that information.

I am paying attention to that impulse, and allowing a break when I am out walking. One break … led to another break … and here we are.

But … I set myself a goal earlier this year of writing at least once a week, and having slipped I need to get right back to it.

So here goes. This is what I have read and heard the last two weeks.

Articles I Saved

Are Index Funds Communist?

By Matt Levine

I have been half-joking for a year and a half that maybe index funds should be illegal, but here is an almost entirely serious claim from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. that they are worse than communism …

…The basic idea is straightforward. The function of the capital markets is to allocate capital. Good companies’ stock prices should go up, so they can raise money and expand. Bad companies should go bankrupt, so that their resources can be re-allocated to more productive purposes. Analysts should be constantly thinking about whether companies are over- or underpriced, so that they can buy the underpriced ones and sell the overpriced ones and keep capital flowing to its best possible uses.

Where should you put your money? The stock market gets better returns than the bank. So you should go there is the simple argument.

However, knowing what to buy and when to sell is fraught with risk. It is difficult to know what to do.

But this is not about that, well it is a little.

This article is about capital allocation, and whether the advice to invest in low fee tracker funds, undermines that function of the market.

Matt Levine writes well, and in an engaging way. I recommend this article. You will learn something I am sure.

No Spanking, No Time-Out, No Problems

Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior. Instead, he advocates for a radical technique in which parents positively reinforce the behavior they do want to see until the negative behavior eventually goes away.

Emphasis is mine

Ok this is parent-p#!n.

Even so, if you manage or lead a team, you may find a few nuggets in here.

I have reflected on this article often over the last two weeks. We have a five-year-old and two-year-old. As the eldest gets well … older … maintaining boundaries and discipline only gets harder.

We have not directly implemented anything in here, not purposefully as a result of this article anyway. I try hard to pay attention to the context, or what leads up to the behavior you don’t want. I don’t always succeed. But I try to keep the temptations away.

The next step, replacing of bad behavior with the good, is what I keep coming thinking about.

Podcasts I Heard

The Ezra Klein Show: Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions

uploads_2f1453492047217-yclvzwbxqk5r8uxr-1b69e758f0d10275acc7ba57f0a67c96_2fezrakleinshow1400x1400Malcolm Gladwell needs no introduction (though if you didn’t know the famed author has launched a podcast, you should — it’s called Revisionist History, and it’s great.).Gladwell’s work has become so iconic, so known, that it’s become easy to take it for granted. But Gladwell is perhaps the greatest contrarian journalist of his generation — he looks at things you’ve seen before, comes to conclusions that are often the opposite of the conventional wisdom, and then leaves you wondering how you could ever have missed what he saw. To see something new in something old is a talent, it’s a process, and it’s what we discuss, in a dozen different ways, in this episode. Among the topics we tackle:-How Gladwell got started at the Washington Post after being fired from another job for waking up late-Gladwell’s high school zine based on personal attacks and Bill Buckley-How Canadians are disinclined to escalate conflicts-The value and nature of boredom in childhood-How people reflexively pile on to convenient narratives -How the economics of media might be influencing its current tone-Why pickup trucks today are so much larger than they used to be-His insights about the current identity of journalists as a culture-Why podcasting is different from writing for the page/screen-Why talking about numbers can be difficult in audio-How the internet will one day seem like an experiment gone completely awry-Why you shouldn’t have satellite radio in your car-Whether more individualized education is a a good idea-The importance of people who are above average though not exceptionalThis is a fun conversation, but it’s also a useful one. It’s hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and realize it’s been misunderstood. Hell, it’s hard to look at something that is believed to be understood and take seriously the idea that it might have been misunderstood. This is Gladwell’s great skill — it is the product of both a process and an outlook, and it’s worth hearing how he does it.

Phew … this is a goodie. I listened to this a while ago and wouldn’t mind going back over it. I enjoyed it and took a break from writing because of it.

There is a great discussion on the role of journalism that is worth it on its own.

Revisionist History: Episode 10 – The Satire Paradox

uploads_2f1464956596674-zye6snpaow-1199f5fc375124c66575217a8ac7dbd1_2fpodcast2bartwork2b-2bno2bshadowIn the political turmoil of mid-1990s Britain, a brilliant young comic named Harry Enfield set out to satirize the ideology and politics of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. His parodies became famous. He wrote and performed a vicious sendup of the typical Thatcherite nouveau riche buffoon. People loved it. And what happened? Exactly the opposite of what Enfield hoped would happen. In an age dominated by political comedy, “The Satire Paradox” asks whether laughter and social protest are friends or foes.

The last in this season of Revisionist History. I will miss it while ironing my shirts on a Sunday night!

I looked forward to this episode and topic and was not disappointed.

Ever since listening to Tim Ferriss interview Whitney Cummins on his podcast last year, I have been thinking about what comedy makes possible. What topics they can get away with, and whether that I useful. In that episode, Whitney Cummins said that the offense you feel on hearing a joke, often says more about you than it does about the joke.

That is interesting personally but doesn’t scale.

This episode is about that. Does satire work?

Hidden Brain: You vs. Future You; Or Why We’re Bad At Predicting Our Own Happiness

hiddenbrain_deepbluereverse2_sq-d4dc2bc0fb94c4fa0074fb7ab2e1b681e6245d7a-s400-c85How great would it be to win a brand new car? How horrible would it be to get laid off from your job? Research by psychologist Dan Gilbert at Harvard University suggests, not that great and not that horrible (respectively). Among the many things Gilbert studies is how people make predictions about future events—specifically, how we make predictions about how we’ll feel about future events. One of the most important questions we ask when making any decision is “how will this make me feel?” But no matter how much time we spend thinking about the future, we don’t get any better at predicting it. That’s why, as Gilbert writes in his book Stumbling on Happiness, divorce lawyers and people who remove tattoos continue to have a steady stream of customers.

This is a great conversation that really got me thinking about my own decisions and how much I fear the consequence of a decision.

There are a couple of passages worth quoting here, but I will leave you with this one below.

GILBERT: … And when you’re on the front side of a decision, alternatives seem to be very close. But once you’ve chosen one, the mind gets going doing what the mind does so well – convincing you that the thing you’ve got is better than the thing you’ve left behind. Now, if psychologists are trying to cure that, we call it rationalization. If we’re trying to sell it, we call it coping

More or Less (BBC Radio Four): Gender Pay Gap

7209This topic has been in the news this week after the Institute for Fiscal Studies published research showing women end up 33% worse off than their male counterparts after they have children. But earlier in the summer, Fraser Nelson wrote in the Telegraph that the pay gap is “no longer an issue” for women born after 1975. Can both assessments be true? And could the label “gender pay gap” be hindering our understanding of what really lies behind the numbers?

This podcast includes a distinction between the terms Equal Pay and Gender Pay Gap. They mean something different.

This leads into a good discussion about statistics generally, and how you need to be clear on the question you are asking as the answers can vary really easily, on the same data.

Freakonomics: What Are Gender Barriers Made Of?

11394Overt discrimination in the labor markets may be on the wane, but women are still subtly penalized by all sorts of societal conventions. How can those penalties be removed without burning down the house?

I am a sucker for podcasts on gender-related topics.

I think the format of a podcast, that tends towards open discussion without the need for a clear conclusion, is why I like the difficult topics on discrimination. For example on gender or race.

They challenge me without getting my back up and preventing learning.

Book I am Reading

People Skills by Robert Bolton

41skre82bspl-_sy346_I finally finished this book! It has taken me a while.

Don’t let my slow reading put you off. This has been a worthwhile read. I am paying a lot more attention to how I communicate, specifically as the receiver of the message.

I am writing a summary of the book. Look out for it.

I will leave you with this one quote to ponder.

The books concludes discussing collaborative problem solving.

Researchers and theorists in the behavioral sciences claim there are three key qualities that foster improved communication: genuineness, nonpossessive love, and empathy. Genuineness means being honest and open about one’s feelings, needs, and ideas. It is a stubborn refusal to let one’s real self “travel incognito.” Nonpossessive love involves accepting, respecting, and supporting another person in a nonpaternalistic and freeing way. Empathy refers to the ability to really see and hear another person and understand him from his perspective.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

51qnuvobwfl-_sy346_I personally know people who have read and talked about this book, and I heard the buzz when it first came out. So it has been on my list for a while.

That, and discussions at work around project resources and the schedule of work brought this to the top of the list.

I have read The Goal: A process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu Goldratt and The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim both of which introduce Lean concepts.

I am fascinated at how these lessons can be applied in the enterprise.

The books if focused on startups. However, this doesn’t mean I am not learning anything.

For example, this quote below, about productivity, gets to why I chose to read this book now. It is so easy to appear productive and to believe you are productive, and to been seen as productive. That doesn’t mean you are!

When people are used to evaluating their productivity locally, they feel that a good day is one in which they did their job well all day. When I worked as a programmer, that meant eight straight hours of programming without interruption. That was a good day. In contrast, if I was interrupted with questions, process, or—heaven forbid—meetings, I felt bad. What did I really accomplish that day? Code and product features were tangible to me; I could see them, understand them, and show them off. Learning, by contrast, is frustratingly intangible.

Emphasis is mine.

Everything you are doing could be wasted effort. So how do you know whether what you are doing is worth it? What a great question!

One more quote for good measure. Worth pondering.

Unfortunately, “learning” is the oldest excuse in the book for a failure of execution. It’s what managers fall back on when they fail to achieve the results we promised. Entrepreneurs, under pressure to succeed, are wildly creative when it comes to demonstrating what we have learned. We can all tell a good story when our job, career, or reputation depends on it.

Have you ever used this as a rationalization?

What is learning?

That is the underlying theme of this book.

More to follow.

Fifty Quick Ideas to Improve You User Stories by Gojko Adzic and David Evans

51hyna4nsal-_sx260_I am always on the lookout for methods and tools that help me get my work done, and concentrate on the outcome.

On my current project, I have been using User Stories more than at any time before. I have turned to this book for guidance and lessons on how to improve them.

It is sure doing that!

I sense an affinity for Gojko Adzic’s approach to solving problems. Immensely practically and focused on the outcome. That makes this text accessible. It must help me do my job better, and in that way influence the outcome of the project I am on.

Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

51tfnzgqyvl-_sx324_bo1204203200_My sister bought me this book for my birthday. Thanks La. She knows I love this stuff!

I have read at least one of Edward de Bono’s books. I found two on my bookshelf, de Bono’s Thinking Course which I don’t recall reading and Simplicity that I definitely read.

I know of the Six Thinking Hats, and have been on courses where it has been discussed. This is my first time in the detail.

I have a workshop I need to run on Monday, and seeing this book when I got home I thought I would read it and consider using the technique.

I am finding it really useful. I plan to use it in my writing and any time I find myself in a confused conversation at work again.

Those courses and books I read early must have influenced me. While I don’t use the hats themselves, when I am facilitating a meeting I do naturally pull apart the discussion into these units that can be aligned to one or more of the hats.

I am on the lookup out for emotion (the Red hat), facts (white hat), issues (black hat), alternatives (green hat), what is good (yellow hat), and in that whole process of facilitating I am in blue hat, organizing, mode.

In particular, I like that everyone in the room is working on one direction at a time. With the knowledge of what is to come, you can focus on each aspect in turn. I think separating out the discussion helps move it along and improve communication.

I am going to leave you with one quote on definitions. How we choose to label and categorise anything and everything is immensely interesting. So this was worth typing out again.

When we come across the first black swan, the statement ‘all swans are white’ becomes untrue. Unless we choose to call the black swan something else.

Have you been in a discussion where people are choosing to call it something else?

Have a great week.



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