Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bezos's Five "Amazing" Points

JEFF BEZOS SPENT AN EVENTFUL TIME with his larger engineering team in India recently. The "events", so to speak, involved no less than a typical decorated delivery truck on one hand (The event where, apparently, his CEO called out Jeff as his 'Baap' [try here]). And, on the other hand, there was him meeting with the Indian Prime Minister in Delhi and talking about things (in e-retail in the most promising e-global economy with the world's 3rd largest open internet userbase, of course).

In between these two was a private dinner organised with a dozen or so CEO's in Bangalore. This paraphrased post is thanks to one of them [try here] "minuting" the following five points that Jeff talked about among other things.
#1: What was the hardest moment of your life?
Jeff: My experience of raising the first million dollars to start Amazon.
Nothing over the following two decades of founding Amazon compared to that. I reached out to 80 odd investors and how they thought my idea of selling books over the internet was crazy.
#2: How do you hire people?
Jeff: I look at two things: one, does the person consider himself to be fortunate? And two, how good are they at making decisions without data... I'm biased and I prefer people who consider themselves as very fortunate [...] they will make or do things better because they are thankful to the way their lives are shaping up. The others will waste their lives looking over their shoulder and complain about how life is not satisfactory. “Those kind of people I don’t want on my team”. [...] While data is an extremely important element of decision making, you have to first listen to your gut, what feels right. Usually, the gut is right and you have to substantiate it with data. But you should not start the other way round, where you look at data first and then suppress your instinct and do what the data says. That will not necessarily make you do great things. 
#3: Would you hire a philosopher and/or an entrepreneur?
[Jeff pauses for a bit], I would hire a philosopher and not an entrepreneur. [...] a philosopher will take my mind where nobody else has taken it. And then, he will find the entrepreneur to make that into a reality. 
#4: What are the fundamental tenets of your business? 
Jeff: There are three things -
1. Customers rule: That is an obsession at Amazon. At any meeting that we have, we have a chair for the customer. I say, ‘there’s a customer sitting here, and are we doing things right for the customer?’.
2. An incessant appetite for innovation: This has to be there in every walk of life, and it’s not an annual activity, but an everyday thing: we have to do things better.
3. Operational excellence: When you are running a successful corporation, the fundamental building block is phenomenal operational excellence. Everything will happen the way it is planned to happen and that we actually execute and deliver on the promise. 
#5: What next?
Jeff: I’ve only just begun.
(For a perspective, today Amazon ranks #35 in Fortune500 list - compared to Google's #46, and Microsoft's #34). 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Pygmalion vs. Golem Effect

These two kinds of self-fulfilling prophecies are broadly defined by wiki as follows:
The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, is the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform.

On the other hand is the Golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance.
In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures, which then came to life. The theme was in the main stray of many English literary works during the victorian era. One of which is George Bernard Shaw's play titled "Pygmalion" from which Rosenthal effect gets its name. In Shaw's play, the protagonist, a professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. (The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the time and a commentary on women's independence.)

When read along with Hawthorne effect, the two behavioral effects above become even more interesting. The Hawthorne effect (commonly referred to as the observer effect) is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior, which is being experimentally measured, in response to the fact that they know that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation. (Of course, without much doubts the key-words and the theme thus far may have already reminded you of the Quantum double-slit experiment, which in itself is a topic for a new Bubble-game. Meanwhile, try here if you must.)

These effects, among others, constitute the broader macro psychology theory of human motivation and personality called "Self-Determination Theory" which concerns with people's inherent growth tendencies and their innate psychological needs, and attempts to study the motivation behind the choices that people make with/out any external influence and interference.

When applied to modern-day study of the economy, it brings us to the ongoing work by MIT professor Dan Ariely in the field of "behavioral economics". The following TED talk captures his ideas rather nicely around prevalent biases in human decision-making process and the term that he coined to describe the behavior: "Predictably Irrational". (My short book-review of the namesake shall follow as a future post.)

[Dan Ariely: Are we in control of our own decisions?]

NB: This blog entry is an example of "Bubble-game Theory"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bubble-Game Theory

YOU CAN CONSIDER GOOGLE your friend only if the two of you play games with each other -- especially with Google the search box. I call our little game Bubble-game. The rule is simple. You need to come up with a vaguely familiar term that you know from somewhere -- desirably from within the Google Apps ecosystem that you personally use on various gadgets. Again, the only rule is that the term should be only vaguely familiar, if at all. It is not necessary to know the precise spelling.

So then, you turn to and ask. From within the context of your 'relationship' with Google, the algorithm would suggest to you the possible answers in the form of search results. And depending on how extensively you use Google --or, to put it more socially-- depending on how well Google 'knows' you, you should find traces in the search results that may indicate where you might have encountered the term for the first time and the subsequent info-branches it created thereafter: cached data, search queries, location information and frequently visited places, bookmarks and favourites, frequently visited sites, email and social circles, interactions and conversations you have had -- to mention a few. (For the complete list, you may want to review details in the public domain for project PRISM.)

If you have noticed, Google Now does something very similar albeit behind the scenes. Which in turn defines the bubble that you live and operate within inside a given app ecosystem. These informed results are algorithmically cultivated to "inform" you better. However, in the process, the algorithm assigns weights to certain information snippets to bump them up over others, and in doing so, it alters the reality for you.

It is my theory that over a period of time, pretty much like a chewing bubble gum one can effectively change the shape and size of this bubble. Since it was defined by your own habitual patterns in the first place, it can be redefined also. It would primarily involve controlling and altering one's digital information usage patterns around the given bubble. Typically, a bubble shrinks over time, making your behavior patterns more predictable. As you add milestones to your life such as acquiring a new degree, getting married, adding a newborn to the family, relocating to a new place, changing jobs, etc. would add additional dimensions and info-branching to the existing bubble. A significant effort may allow you to restrict the bubble from affecting your information consumption. However, there seems to be no way to burst the bubble unless the complete dataset is lost or disassociated with your digital identity.

Getting back to the Bubble-game, the term that Google and I played with today is "Rosenthal" (try here) -- a vaguely familiar term that randomly popped up in my head, most probably by unconsciously noticing Umberto Eco's book "The Name Of the Rose" on the bookshelf in the passing. The bubble involves a host of url's, bookmarks, comments, that I happened to capture a couple of years ago.

(PS: Eli Pariser demonstrated the bubble effect in his 2011 TED talk with striking examples. His ongoing research effort is updated on his personal blog - The Filter Bubble.)

Monday, July 01, 2013

"Peter Drucker - Managing Oneself" on

IN THE INTRODUCTORY paragraph of this legendary paper for Harvard Business Review, Peter Drucker writes:
We live in an age of unprecedented opportunity: If you've got ambition and smarts, you can rise to the top of your chosen profession, regardless of where you started out. 
But with opportunity comes responsibility. Companies today aren't managing their employees' careers; knowledge workers must, effectively, be their own chief executive officers. It's up to you to carve out your place, to know when to change the course, and to keep yourself engaged and productive during a work life that may span some 50 years. To do those things well, you will need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself - not only what your strengths and weaknesses are but also how you learn, how you work with others, what your values are, and where you can make the greatest contribution.
Because only when you operate from strengths can you achieve true excellence.
Marking a small footnote today as this 10-slides synopsis (below) of Peter Drucker's "Managing Oneself" crosses a sort of a mini milestone on SlideShare with a thousand+ downloads from 26k+ views overall since its first publication.
Thank you all.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Age of Innocence

(My junior)

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world 
I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world 
The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin', "How do you do?"
They're really sayin', "I love you" 
I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world 
Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh yeah... 
~ Louis Armstrong