Post 11: Critique of the Course

I think the biggest thing I learnt in this class is that sometimes the best option is the one that seems the least logical. For example, Akerlof’s Gift Exchange Hypothesis suggests paying employees more than the minimum required is usually beneficial for an organization. The other important concept was how organizations make decisions, especially the concept of the whip, or the person who listens to everyone and makes sure they are all on the same page. Both these concepts are important to organizational success and make sense, even if they are not obvious necessities. I also enjoyed most of the models, although I would have liked the tests to include more math than pure concepts, but I’m more of a math person.

I think I would have enjoyed the blogging more and gotten more out of it if the prompts were less specific. I understand you focused on personal anecdotes to get us thinking how it applies to our lives more, but I do not enjoy writing about myself. If I could focus more on the concepts and examples outside my personal experience, I think my writing would have been more interesting and less cookie cutter. I also wish we could have more discussion in class, because those were very helpful. The excel homework worked well for me, but I felt as the class went on they became less in depth. Earlier homeworks took us step by step through the processes, so I knew I understood them, while later homeworks just asked for answers.

To be honest, I did not do any of the readings, and I don’t feel like it hurt me at all. For most of the excel homeworks, I read the entire document, but only once or twice did I rely on the videos. I tried to get the excel homework done as soon as possible, so I liked you released it early. Blog posts took me 20-30 minutes and besides comments I already made, I think they were usually applicable topics and a reasonable length and time to complete. I wish I could chose the blogs I needed to comment on, because I think I would enjoy commenting more that way. Your comments were consistently helpful and thought provoking, though, so thank you for those.

Overall, the main thing I would have liked to see more in your class was more of a focus on the math. You say people get bored when you talk about it, but for me, it seems like one of the most applicable things you teach. I think it would be more clear if you solved problems in class to show how the concepts were being used, rather than a purely conceptual explanation of the math. I also wish the tests had more math based problems with definite numbers. The first two problems on both tests seemed way too short for 50 point questions, perhaps each could have a concept portion and a numbers portion. Overall, I enjoyed the class, especially your examples from your own experiences. It is clear you enjoy teaching, and it makes the class much more enjoyable.


Post 10: Reputation and Branding

Internet corporations, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are highly reliant on their brands and reputations: it is often cheap to switch to a competitor and positive network externalities means  that establishing a loyal base is the key to growth. Many brand their services as free for all, such as Twitter; some offer free basic packages with paid upgrades, such as Pandora; while others charge transaction fees, but sell for lower prices than otherwise available, such as Travelocity. This focus on cheap to free to use web services have revolutionized how we do business, and, as the Facebook and Twitter IPOs have shown, have generated a lot of excitement from investors.

But I’m more skeptical about the future of these companies. Much of their hype is generated from their excellent branding. In a marketplace where entry is relatively inexpensive, great ideas are bountiful, and innovations occur constantly; branding and the reputation that follows are the only way to survive. We do not search for information online, we “google it;” we do not bother shopping around when we know, or at least think, that the best deal will always be on Amazon; companies are scrambling to expand their social media presence. But now these brands these companies worked so hard to create have created a huge obstacle: how do they transform this brand into a profit without hurting the reputation that made them successful.

Some companies have found a way to profit, such as Google and Priceline, two of the most successful stocks on the market today. But despite their hyped IPOs, it is unclear how companies like Facebook and Twitter plan to make money. Lie Facebook, Google gives most of its products for free, but it manages to make six times as much revenue per customer as they do. But even high revenues is not necessarily the key to profitability; Amazon destroys both of them in revenue per customer, but despite it’s increasing sales, profits are slim. For now, investors who see the potential to become the next jackpot investment are happy to forego short term gains for long term success, but it is unclear how long this can last.

The key will be to start profiting off the brand: companies like Amazon needs start making larger profit margins off its transactions; while companies like Twitter and Facebook need to start advertising more and profiting off customer information. But part of their successful branding  is their willingness to provide customers extremely cheap services at the expense of their bottom line. they have done such a good job branding that their customers expect these products to be low cost. It is unclear if these companies will be able to monetize their reputations, or if trying to do so will drive their customers to their competitors.  Already, Facebook is losing younger users, and the company must balance providing ads to make money and keeping users happy and on the site. Perhaps Facebook needs to use its branding skills to convince customers that advertisements are how they pay to use the service, and that the increased advertisements will make the cite better for users. Otherwise, it could become the next MySpace.

Post 9: Reputation

Among my friends, I’d like to think I have a reputation as someone well informed about news and current events. I stay up to date by reading the NY Times daily and, to a lesser extent, by watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  I have an interest in current events and, as a human, I enjoy talking about my interests, so I bring often bring up news, especially political news, when talking with my friends. Most of my friends are more or less apathetic to news and politics, so I think that highlights my reputation of knowledge. As a result of my reputation, when my friends do want to discuss current events, they tend to raise the issue with me or want to know my opinions on the news.

Occasionally the gap in attention paid to current events/politics between me and my friends surprises me. Once, during a discussion about the sequester during a Model United Nations meeting, my friend made a statement that we were not specifying what sequester we were talking about, the dictionary had many definitions. At the time I thought he was joking and feinting ignorance, but it turned out he had no idea that the sequester was forced budget cuts that would take place without a Congressional deal, let alone what that would entail. What seemed to me to be basic knowledge was foreign to him. Another one of my friends did not know what a filibuster was, which made me wonder how he passed through high school. As far as I know, I am the only one among my friends who voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Another of my friends who, given the current state of the country, is highly disillusioned by politics. He feels I argue about politics too much, while I feel that, at least among my friends, I do it rarely, and certainly less than I would prefer. I think I’ve had serious political debates maybe three to four times at most at college. My friend more or less agrees on the number, but to him, these were too many times, and they really stick out in his mind as examples of my character.

Even though I like to stay informed, I am not always aware of every news story, and some don’t interest me enough to pay significant attention to. My reputation as someone who is informed allows me to pass of my sometimes limited or incomplete information as more credible than my other friends. I think my reputation as staying informed in current events also helps my believe-ability in other topics, such as trivia, science, and general knowledge that my friends are more likely to talk about. While I try to back my insights with facts, it sometimes allows me to unconsciously misrepresent sources to back my views, knowing my friends are probably not familiar with the source material. But, overall, I don’t think my actions seriously jeopardize my reputation as someone who likes to stay informed and develop thought-out opinions on current events.

Post 8: When Teamwork works… and When it Doesn’t

Sometimes teamwork brings out the best in everyone, other times it leads to failure. For my psychology class last year, my group had to analyze the Asch conformity experiment and give a presentation on it. I was familiar with one of my group members because we were both part of the club tennis team, but I did not know the other member well before the project. Groups were assigned by picking the topic we wanted to report on, so we shared some interest in the subject, at least compared to the other options. There was a laundry list of requirements to we had to discuss, such as the method, the results, and the implications. with time given in class, we decided to divvy up the areas between us and later combine it into one presentation, with each member presenting their area to the class. We met once outside class to put the slideshows we made together and although one member’s contributions needed more information, it went together very efficiently. We winged the presentation, but it went well, and we got high grades, the previously mentioned member’s a little lower than the others, which he admitted he probably deserved. Overall, the project went well, and the team flourished with little top down direction.

This fall, I joined a intramural soccer team set up by my friend. I knew a few of the members already, but most of us did not know each other. We had few practices, most of which I could not make because of prior engagements  and others that I admittedly skipped to hang out with friends. Our team lost all its games, some of them badly. We had very loose positioning, especially in midfield, so we had a hard time getting the ball from the defensive to the offensive side of the field. We often did not have enough players to have substitutes, and when we did, people were hesitant to rotate out, so we had troubles getting back and defending, especially towards the ends of games. We did not communicate well, and passing was a problem. Overall, the team was a mess.

Our team needed leadership, and our leader did not provide it. He should have advocated for practice more and been stricter about positioning. In previous years, he was much better about setting up practices, and our team was better because of it. But it wasn’t completely my friends fault, I can blame no one but myself for not attending the few practices we did have. My friend felt that, as it was intramurals, people should play whatever position they wanted and it was not his position to force them to play the role they were assigned. I think he could have been a bit more forceful, but I agree that it was better to lean towards too relaxed than too strict on positioning and practicing. Also, when a substitute was needed, our leader often chose himself to sit out and let everyone else played, so his problem was not selfishness. Overall though, our group was too large and needed too much coordination to be successful without a leader, most of our competition were fraternities which meant they had a huge communication advantage that made leadership easier. My group project of three people was easily divisible and did not need a formal leader, my soccer team was large with interdependent members and did.

Post 7: Triangles of Tension

Employees jobs are to meet the demands of both their customers and their employers, but these demands do not always align, which can lead to questions of loyalty for the employee. In his book Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis presents how he reacted to opposing demands of his customers and his  employer at the Wall Street firm Salomon Brothers. An example of him favoring the later over the former is when he knowingly dumped losing assets on an unsuspecting customer to the high praise of his company. But when he is micromanaged into pushing risky junk bonds to customers, he recommends them as “highly popular,” knowing the customer dislikes popular investments and will decline the offer.

It is clear that Lewis more fondly remembers the second example: it is easier to reason saving your customer by shorting your billion dollar company a few hundred thousand in sketchily earned profits than by saving the company that money by ruining an innocent person financially. But he shows why employees would take the first option: the swell of praise from higher ups in the company would help his career  prospects much more than retaining business with one of your best clients by not screwing them over. A main difference is that Lewis had a much better relationship with and more dependence on the customer he sided with; it was easier to justify scamming someone he did not know.

Lewis presents a common problem, do employees help their company and their future in it, or do they help their customers and their fellow man. But its not as simple as whether this opportunism is good for each individual or not, it affects the future of the whole company. Lewis is surprised at how much respect Wall Street firms command, even when they often make decisions based on what is good for them, not what is good for their customers. While it has not hurt them yet, he clearly thinks it will come back to bite them some day: if you keep taking advantage of customers to serve your own interest, you will eventually lose all your customers. It can sometimes be in a company’s long term interest for employees to ignore their short-sighted demands and fulfill what the customer wants, because it can lead to more business in the future.

I think employees with a greater sense of ownership would be more likely to help the customer over the employer, they know that their job is to satisfy their customers and that usually the companies best long-term interest is to do so. It could be argued, however, that companies promoting a greater sense of ownership would be less likely to conflict with the customer anyway, but that is another matter. Carrot-and-stick and bonus motivated employees would probably be much more likely to side with the employer, it usually gets them off the hook for customer dissatisfaction and boosters how company leaders perceive them.  But there is also a lot of room for nuisance, sometimes the customer does not know what is best for them and the company does, and sometimes the company is better off following the customer and boosting future sale from recommendations. Overall, it is not an easy position for employees to be in, but that’s why they are paid.

Post 6: Group Contributions

For the most part, I don’t think this article has a direct effect on my life yet. Most of my teamwork activities have been through school and sports, both of which lead to more or less similar results for everyone. The question in these cases is how much people put in more than what everyone gets out of it, which brings up a separate problems. The article discusses what to do when people put in similar efforts but get different results rather than putting in different efforts to get similar results. As someone who pays very few taxes and earns very little, I feel my opinions on income distribution is less legitimate than others; its easy to say how things should be when you have no skin in the game. 

I think that, overall, the articles main point is true, that people are more willing to give up rewards if they feel efforts put in were equal, and that this is an important trait in human development. I also agree that if rewards are gained by luck, whether by randomly starting out with more or by randomly earning more for the same but separate work, people tend to share less. I feel this is especially revealing in today’s society, people born into more advantaged families see their accomplishments entirely as their own efforts rather than inherit biases in the system. They worked hard, pulled the string and earned 3 marbles, it’s not their fault less fortunate only got 1. We want to believe people deserve what they get, which explains why people working together tend to share unequal outcomes but  people working alone tend not to. 

In my experience with groups, disparity of results has not been a problem, because in school, everyone gets about the same grade; while in sports, the team wins and losses as a whole. The challenge becomes getting everyone to do their fair share. When all are about equally motivated with about the same standards, this usually is not a problem. The problem comes when people are unequally motivated or do not share standards. It is usually easier to split up tasks in groups, and it is sometimes hard to make sure that all portions are approximately the same amount of work and can still be done efficiently.  If everyone is pitching in, it is the people who do have more work are more likely to feel that it is worth it. I have been on group projects where the group made a movie and I had to edit it alone. It was more work for me, but I realized that group editing would have been inefficient, and did not mind the extra work. I do not think I would feel the same way if even one of the group members did not help with the video.  For sports, I am usually willing to spend my time practicing, but I may not be as willing if I feel team members are skipping or not taking practice seriously. There are exceptions, people tend to see their contributions as more than they actually are, and people can perform about equally work but some member may feel as if others short-changed them. But this is an individual problem, and is largely unavoidable.  

Overall, while this article was interesting, it describes situations different from most of the group work I have encountered in my life. This is not to say the situation Haidt describes is rare, it is probably more common than my group experiences, but in school and sports; the areas of my teamwork expertise, it is much less applicable. 

Post 5: Illinibucks

If there were to be a system of paying “Illinibucks” for benefits on campus, I can imagine several places they would be used. The system could be used for multiple scenarios, including assigning dorms, but for the purposes of this post, I will only consider class registration order, as that is the only aspect of college life that applies to every student and could work with this system. Desires like dorm assignments could use Illinibucks to solve problems, but do not apply universally, while services like counseling are used by all students, but should certainly not be rationed off. I imagine a system where the university would offer a period where every class was open to all students for a certain Illinibucks fee, with first come first serve; then it would open the classes to the rest.  I assume that Illinibucks would be given each semester and  could role over year to year or at least semester to semester, that the University would not allow formal transfer of Illinibucks from one student to another, and that the university would not provide any form of compensation for unspent  currency. I think these are reasonable assumptions given other programs at the University like meal plans.

I would likely spend my Illinibucks on classes that I needed for my major first, then my minor, then wait until the general deadline to fill out the rest. I would classes I thought would be crowded, so popular classes in my minor would be more important than less popular classes in my major, and if I thought a class would drop through to the free sign up, I would probably leave it. Fortunately, I prefer earlier classes to later ones and I think most students prefer the opposite, so I would be less likely to have to pay for a desired time over a desired class. Unfortunately, I take a lot of economics and math classes which tend to be very popular, so I would have to pay to get into them, and likely quickly before they run out.

An Illinibucks system, however, would have a lot of problems. First off, without an auction system, it would be hard to correctly price classes. Without an auction system, the University would have to hire people to set a price for each class or price them all the same. Pricing them all the same would be essentially the same as the current system, and thus would be pointless. But to set the price would require knowing students preferences, which would be hard because the course catalog is different each year and it is hard to measure students preference. Professors may be offended that their classes are not “worth as much” as other classes. Introduction classes would likely be the most in demand and thus the most expensive, discouraging students from learning new subjects. If an auction system is used, the fact that Illinibucks are not real currency would likely push the price of popular courses to near the entire allowance, which would be especially hard on underclassmen. They need to take introduction courses to move up, but they can only afford one or two introduction courses a semester.

The university would need to split up registration so that servers could handle the traffic, but that partially defeats the purpose of the Illinibucks system. The biggest problem for the University, however, would be the almost certain rise of a black market. Students would “purchase” rights to popular courses then sell the rights when open registration starts. Policing would be hard and costly, especially with internet anonymity. This would make it even harder to get into popular courses, but more importantly, would eventually cause a “cash for courses” scandal the University does not want.  There are too many issues with this system for the University to seriously consider it.