!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: October 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 2009




Friday, October 30, 2009

Healthy Careerism

A couple of days ago, Joe Hodas, senior VP – Brand Communications at a Colorado marketing agency, published a column in Advertising Age that offers a checklist of ten do's and one don't that will help you "advance your career witout selling your soul."

In edited form, Hodas's ten principles are:
  1. Nothing replaces hard work. Effective hard work, that is. You do need to produce valuable results.

  2. We all have a personal toolkit — know yours and how to use it. Identify and apply your strengths. Keep strengthening your strengths.

  3. It's about teamwork, but know who is and isn't on your team. Be an upstanding, savvy participant in the office politics you will inevitably be dealing with.

  4. Don't throw any fits. Outbursts are unprofessional.

  5. Decide how much you can take before you bail. "A career is like a relationship, so make sure you're putting as much effort into trying to fix the problems as you put into feeling bad about them."

  6. Earn your raises and promotions. Hodas is "a firm believer that raises are for the work you've done, and promotions are for the work you can do."

  7. Individuality is to be respected — as long as you're still part of the team. "Don't be afraid to stand out, but do make sure you don't alienate your teammates in the process."

  8. Always try to add something smart to the discussion. And be ready with a rationale for what you are saying. I would argue that "because" (or its equivalent in your own language) is one of the most beautiful words you can use.

  9. Sometimes you have to raise the volume in order to be heard. If you feel strongly about something — and are all set with your "because" statement — speak right up.

  10. Have a perspective on the past, present and future. This is the most agency-oriented of Hodas's points, but it still can readily be applied in other industries: "It's not enough to do well today. Your boss wants and needs to see that you have a broader outlook on where you / the client / the work / etc. has been, is now and will be going."

  11. Always be that ray of light in your boss's/ co-worker's day. This is among my favorite precepts. Remember: What you say and do in a particular situation is a statement of what sort of person you are. So be sure what you say and do reflects the you you want to be.
If Hodas's advice seems commonsensical, there's a reason for that. Principles for handling oneself well generally are a matter of common sense. The challenges are to know what to focus on, and to recruit the strength to be consistent in actually following the principles you swear by.


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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roy DeCarava, 1919 - 2009

Roy DeCarava on Charlie Rose, March 21, 1996
(Charlie Rose)

Some examples of DeCarava's work . . .

Mary Osborne, Vi Redd and Dottie Dodgion

Langston Hughes, 1955
(LWGMS Documentary Photography)

Coat Hanger, 1961
(Joyce Henri Robinson, Pennsylvania State University)

The New York Times obituary is here.



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

William Trevor's Writing Technique

I'd like to follow up briefly on Sunday's post about research concerning how a message deliverer's expertise and expressed degree of certainty affect persuasiveness.

The research indicates that surprising consumers by having a message containing a subjective judgment be delivered by a somewhat uncertain expert, or by a highly certain non-expert, will engage consumers' interest and make it easier to persuade them that the message is valid (assuming it includes a strong argument in favor of the judgment in question).

This notion of using surprise to gain audience attention, and get them thinking about what you have to say, came back to mind as I was reading a review of William Trevor's latest novel in the November 19 issue of The New York Review of Books (not yet online).

Reviewer David Lodge likes Love and Summer. After several paragraphs explaining Trevor's long career — he is now eighty-one — and introducing the novel, Lodge makes the following comment about Trevor's writing technique:

The novel begins:
On a June evening some years after the middle of the last century Mrs Eileen Commulty passed through the town of Rathmoye: from Number 4 The Square to Magennis Street, into Hurley Lane, along Irish Street, across Cloughjordan Road to the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer. Her night was spent there.
In short, it begins with a funeral, though it is not until you get to the last sentence that the penny drops. This is typical of Trevor's technique: enlivening the meticulous realism of the scene-setting not by metaphor and simile, but by little enigmas and surprises in the way information is fed to the reader. He belongs in a tradition classically represented by the fiction writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries like Maupassant, Chekhov, and the Joyce of
Dubliners. The narrative voice is impersonal and detached but reliable, in complete possession of the story and its milieu, giving us enough information to be interested, but withholding a good deal to ensure that we read on, and think about what we read ...

Lodge's description of how Trevor presents his story carries a lesson for anyone wanting an engaged audience. A major part of your job in planning the flow of a presentation, especially if the size of your audience limits mid-presentation dialogue, is to decide how to launch your story in a way that gets people to sit up because it is somehow unexpected, and then how to parcel out your information and supporting arguments in a way that continues to inject surprising points that keep listeners' minds in gear.

For related ideas concerning use of stagecraft as a tool for persuasion, see this post from 2006 that talks about David Gergen's views on what effective leaders do that makes them persuasive.


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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The "Getting Out and Staying Out" Guide

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, I want to mention the comprehensive guide provided to offenders who are being released from the San Francisco County jail system. It's an exemplary handbook now in its second edition (2008-2009).

Getting Out and Staying Out: A Guide to San Francisco Resources for People Leaving Jails and Prisons is a project of what is now the Reentry Council of the City & County of San Francisco.1 The guide has ten sections:
  1. First Things First — helps the ex-offender get organized by identifying and prioritizing services he/she needs.

  2. Probation & Parole — four pages on the basics of conforming to probation and parole requirements.

  3. Identification & Benefits — covers such matters as how to get a copy of your birth certificate and how to apply for food stamps.

  4. Finances — strongly encourages getting a bank account rather than dealing with check-cashing services; explains how to use the EARN program to get matching funds for education, buying a house or starting a business; provides help on setting up a budget.

  5. Legal — a listing of providers of low-cost and free legal services.

  6. Housing — covers permanent housing, emergency shelters, rental assistance, transitional housing, residential treatment facilities, and domestic violence shelters.

  7. Education & Employment — lists educational opportunities and employment-related services.

  8. Information & Services — a potpourri of information and service providers.

  9. Wellness — a listing of resources for physical health, food, mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, anger management, and case management (e.g., for problems with being violent).

  10. Families & Children — a listing of services for parents and others involved in raising children.
One other note relating to restorative justice: It's an international movement, as you can see by visiting a website such as that maintained by Restorative Justice Online.

It was interesting to me to note that non-US materials on restorative justice seem to be more heavily oriented toward victim and community restoration than the San Francisco RSVP materials. I take this as an indication that offender restoration is less of a departure from standard practice in countries like the UK, Australia, and New Zealand than it is in the US, which has a strong thread of retributive justice in its culture.

Nonetheless, professional attention to the restorative justice approach has a history in the US, with particularly deep roots in Minnesota. See, for example, the website of the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, which is housed in the School of Social Work of the University of Minnesota.

Finally, I would note that John Braithwaite of Australia is a leader in the restorative justice field, with a considerable body of work to which you can refer for additional insight into how restorative justice is best implemented — so that one maximizes the odds of achieving desired outcomes and of avoiding mistakes.

1 Thanks to my need to understand why the San Francisco Sheriff's Department runs county, rather than city, jails, I am now clued into the fact that San Francisco is actually both a city and a county — an example of a consolidated city-county.


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Monday, October 26, 2009

Restorative Justice in San Francisco

Back in June I wrote a post about David Kennedy's approach to deterring criminal offenders, who had not yet perpetrated violent crimes, from continuing their illegal activities. Now, thanks to a book review, also dating from June, I've become aware of an approach to reducing recidivism among jailed offenders that seems to be attracting increasing attention in the US after being used successfully in San Francisco since 1997.1

The review, by Helen Epstein, lays out the sorry story of how the US leads the world in its rate of incarceration, thereby putting extraordinarily large numbers of people in an environment that, without special effort, will leave them in no condition to function back in society when they are released. Epstein then goes on to talk about Dreams from the Monster Factory: A Tale of Prison, Redemption and One Woman's Fight to Restore Justice to All, a memoir written by Sunny Schwartz.

Schwartz is a program administrator in the San Francisco Sheriff's Department who co-founded the department's Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP), along with Assistant Sheriff Michael Marcum and Captain Rebecca Benoit.

Participants in the RSVP Expressive Arts program learn about replacing the macho image of superiority that contributed to their violent behavior, with a more humane view of the male role in society. The theater program also helps participants learn ways of expressing their feelings and needs in a nonviolent manner.

RSVP is a version of what has come to be known as restorative justice, which is most simply defined as:
all approaches to crime that attempt to do justice by repairing the harm crime causes.2
RSVP's founders made a point of designing the program based on input from an advisory committee made up of representatives of a broad cross-section of law enforcement and community stakeholders, including crime victims. The program was the 2004 recipient of the Innovations in American Government Award, presented by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

You can get a quick overview of RSVP in the 3:08 video below.

A longer account of the program is offered in the 28:23 video below, which ran on PBS in 2005 as part of the Visionaries series hosted by Sam Waterston.

Among those interviewed are Sunny Schwartz; Michael Hennessey, Sheriff of San Francisco; Ronald Rosado, a Deputy Sheriff working in the dormitory where the RSVP program is based; George Jurand, RSVP Program Coordinator and Manager; Sheryl Corke, Principal of Five Keys Charter School (see below); Teresa Camajani, a history teacher at Five Keys; Delia Ginorio, Survivor Restoration Coordinator; and Jean O'Hara, a former Victim Impact Coordinator, who lost her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson to murder.

There is also footage of unnamed inmates participating in RSVP discussions, including a victim impact presentation by Jean O'Hara.

Using data from a two-year period beginning nine months prior to the inception of RSVP, and continuing for fifteen months after its launch, James Gilligan, then a visiting professor of psychiatry, criminology, and public policy and practice at the University of Pennsylvania, and Bandy Lee. a clinical professor of law and psychiatry at Yale, evaluated the program's effects on inmate behavior. Their hypothesis:
... the dormitory in which violence-prevention skills are taught through RSVP would create a cultural environment that would generate fewer violent incidents than the dormitory without such a programme, [which] turned out to be the case.3
The effect on the frequency with which ex-offenders were re-arrested for violent crimes was also positive: Among jail inmates who took part for a full sixteen weeks, the reduction was over 80% for the first year after release, compared to a control group of non-participants.4

Gilligan and Lee argue that
The seeds of a change in [the in-jail] culture can be seen in some of the principles that characterized the in-house version of RSVP: (1) redefining the male-role image of superiority; (2) holding oneself accountable rather than minimizing or blaming; (3) offering peer-directed guidance and having avenues for promotion; (4) verbalizing rather than acting out: (5) expressing emotions as needs; and (6) offering intimacy rather than offence. ... Finding violence to be not only an ineffectual but counterproductive means of gaining respect in [the] new culture, the inmates would quickly search for other means, which facilitated their compliance and adaptation.
I was particularly interested in the nature of the integrated pre- and post-release services provided to inmates to assist in their transition back into the community, services which bear a not surprising resemblance to those offered in various programs around the country directed at populations with employability barriers.5

The services include:
  • Core RSVP curriculum designed to change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors — includes male role re-education (using the Manalive curriculum), victim impact presentations, drug and alcohol recovery, theater, and release planning (further details below).6

    A propos of the victim impact presentations, Gilligan and Lee comment that "we have been astonished by ... how little awareness most of these men had had as to how much power they had to hurt others, until they listened to ... victims describe their own reactions to being victimized by others." 7

  • Five Keys Charter School — an accredited high school started in 2003 that is geared to adults, both during incarceration and following release. The five "keys" are family, recovery, education, employment, and community. Since 2008, the original Five Keys Charter School has been complemented by two additional charter schools: Five Keys Adult School and Five Keys Independence High.

  • Community meetings — held weekly in the RSVP dormitory to allow participants to discuss day-to-day issues they are coping with.

  • Loss of Innocence class — participants can explore and address trauma and victimization they experienced in childhood.

  • Fatherhood curriculum — a twelve-week program in which participants "discuss the father's role in a child's life, the importance of providing children with a consistent and supportive environment, and issues children face as they grow up in a single parent's home."

  • Young Adult class — inmates twenty-eight and under address their violence, drug dependency, and recidivism problems.

  • Creative writing — participants contribute to the dormitory's newsletter, with the aim of strengthening writing skills and exercising creativity.

  • Transfer planning — produces an exit plan spelling out the steps and tools the inmate will continue to employ in order to maintain a life free of violence and substance abuse.

    The transfer planning includes plans for restoration of victims and the community. For details of RSVP's services for crime victims and survivors, see here. For services to communities, see here.

  • Post-release programs — designed to assist ex-offenders in maintaining behavior changes learned in the in-jail program. Include the Post-Release Education Program (PREP), which continues, at least for the first year, participation in Manalive discussion groups and weekly facilitated support groups. PREP also includes a Life Skills program with three components, the first dealing with job readiness, exploration of career opportunities, and apprenticeship programs; the second involving resume preparation and practice employment interviews; and the third covering tracking of ex-offenders' progress and ongoing support with work-related issues. Participants get counseling and support in such areass as substance abuse avoidance and parenting.

  • Internship Program — for select participants, a four- to six-month training program that prepares them for employment as peer counselors in the jail or at human services agencies.

  • Community advocacy programs — ex-offenders can give back to the community in such ways as leading Manalive groups, performing in theater programs for the public, counseling youth groups, and engaging in victim restitution programs.
I'll wrap up with a summary comment from Sunny Schwartz, et al. that indicates why emulation of RSVP elsewhere is important:
As an affirmative crime prevention tool that actively engages inmates, RSVP has been successful in giving participants, collaborators, and the community a greater understanding of the nature and dynamics of violence, including the spectrum of abusive behavior, the importance of gender-role training, the significance of learned behavior, the methods for unlearning violence, and the criminal implications and consequences of violence.8
1 Helen Epstein, "America's Prisons: Is There Hope?" The New York Review of Books, Vol. 56, No. 10 (June 11, 2009).

As an example of the spread of the RSVP program, see this report by Kate Stone Lombardi in the July 6, 2008 edition of the New York Times, which describes the introduction of the RSVP approach to Westchester County.

2 Restorative Juvenile Justice: Repairing the Harm of Youth Crime, Bazemore and Walgrave (eds.) (Criminal Justice Press, 1999).

3 James Gilligan and Bandy Lee, "The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Transforming an In-house Culture of Violence through a Jail-Based Programme," Journal of Public Health Vol. 27, No. 2 (June 2005b), pp. 149-155.

4 James Gilligan and Bandy Lee, "The Resolve to Stop the Violence Project: Reducing Violence in the Community through a Jail-Based Initiative," Journal of Public Health, Vol 27, No. 2 (June 2005a), pp. 143-148.

5 Some of these programs have been the subject of previous posts. See here, here, here, and here.

6Sunny Schwartz, Michael Hennessey, and Leslie Levitas, "Designing: Not Business as Usual," American Jails, Jan-Feb 2005, pp. 10.

7 Gilligan and Lee (2005a).

8 Schwartz, Hennessey, Levitas (2005), p. 12.


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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Perceived Expertise, Expressed Certainty, and Persuasiveness

A recent paper by graduate student Uma R. Karmarkar and professor of marketing Zakary L. Tormala of the Stanford Graduate School of Business looks at an aspect of being persuasive to consumers that in all likelihood has broader applicability.1

Karmarkar and Tormala investigate the effect on persuasiveness of whether someone making a subjective recommendation (e.g., concerning a restaurant) expresses certainty or, alternatively, a degree of uncertainty about the recommendation.

The research indicates that the effect of expressing certainty/uncertainty on persuasiveness when subjective judgments are involved and when the argument presented is strong depends on whether the recommendation comes from a perceived expert or a perceived nonexpert. Specifically,
... low[-]expertise sources violate expectancies, simulate involvement, and promote persuasion when they express certainty, whereas high[-]expertise sources violate expectancies, simulate involvement, and promote persuasion when they express uncertainty.
Karmarkar and Tormala reached their conclusion by analyzing the results of three experiments:
  1. An initial test of the incongruity hypothesis, i.e., the hypothesis that an expert who expresses uncertainty, or a non-expert who expresses certainty, will intrigue message receivers and thereby make them more susceptible to persuasion. The results supported this hypothesis.

  2. An investigation of the effect of the message deliverer's certainty on persuasion. Karmarkar and Tormala tested the hypotheses that (1) violation of expectations concerning the relation of expertise and certainty increases the message receiver's involvement (attention to and interest in the message), and (2) increased receiver involvement increases the persuasiveness of the message (assuming it includes strong arguments). The results supported these hypotheses.

  3. An investigation of the impact of varying argument quality. Karmarkar and Tormala tested the hypotheses that (1) increasing receiver involvement by establishing incongruity between the deliver's expertise and certainty has more of an impact on persuasiveness for strong arguments than for weak arguments, and (2) strong arguments produce higher "thought favorability" (e.g., favorable ideas about a restaurant under review), which, in turn, produce more persuasion (in the form of favorable attitudes toward, and interest in, the restaurant). The results supported these hypotheses.

    Note that incongruity between expertise and certainty, by increasing receiver involvement, will tend to undermine persuasion if the arguments in the message are weak. At best, there will likely be no effect on the receiver's attitudes and intentions.
Karmarkar and Tormala conclude their paper by pointing out the tactics that their results suggest people should consider when delivering messages involving subjective judgments:
  • "... individuals lacking in established expertise can augment their persuasive impact when they have strong arguments by strategically incorporating expressions of high certainty into their message."

  • "... when experts have strong arguments on their side, they will be more influential if they express uncertainty rather than certainty about their opinion or recommendation."
My own thought is that this research has likely applicability for messaging outside the consumer context. For instance, in facilitating classroom training, it is probably advisable not to adopt too strong a tone of certainty when discussing subjective recommendations. Indeed, good facilitators know that leaving space for participants to explore issues about which the facilitator has a point of view (not the same thing as utter certainty) increases participant engagement and promotes learning.

Note: You can read the Stanford business school's summary of Karmarkar and Tormala's research here.

1 Uma R. Karmarkar and Zakary L. Tormala, "Believe Me, I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About: The Effects of Source Certainty on Consumer Involvement and Persuasion," Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 36, No. 6 (April 2010); published online October 6, 2009.


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Saturday, October 24, 2009

MIT/Harvard Course on Organizational Economics

As a follow-on to my recent post dealing with Nobel laureate Oliver Williamson's work on the boundaries of the firm, I'd mention that you can get a good idea of the state-of-the-art in the study of organizational economics by looking through the reading list for a course on that subject offered jointly by MIT and Harvard.

Uses of organizational economics within firms, between firms, and beyond firms
(Robert Gibbons)

Taught by Prof. George Baker of MIT and Prof. Robert Gibbons of Harvard, Organizational Economics, is divided into four modules:
  • Boundaries of the firm

  • Employment in organizations

  • Decision-making in organizations

  • Structures and processes in organizations
The reading list includes both foundational material, e.g., Ronald Coase's classic paper on "The Nature of the Firm" from 1937; and contemporary material, e.g, chapters from Baker and Gibbons' forthcoming compilation, The Handbook of Organizational Economics.


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Friday, October 23, 2009

Michael D. Watkins on Managing Business Transitions

In the January 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Michael D. Watkins, a one-time business professor and now chairman of Genesis Advisers, lays out a robust approach for leaders to follow in handling various business transitions, such as getting a start-up off the ground, or overseeing a distressed company's turnaround.

"Picking the Right Transition Strategy" explains Watkins' STARS framework, which outlines the challenges and opportunities inherent in five types of business transition. In addition to start-ups and turnarounds (S and T), STARS covers situations of accelerated growth (a company entering a period of rapid expansion), realignment (a company facing the need to significantly adjust its strategy in order to remain successful), and sustaining success (an executive taking over a company whose previous leader was highly effective).

Watkins spells out the full details of the STARS framework in his recently published book, Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Successfully Navigating Major Career Transitions. The HBR article focuses on a case study that illustrates how one senior executive, with conscious deliberation, handled a pair of assignments quite differently because the first was a turnaround, while the second was a realignment.

The case example highlights the fact that the same fundamental principles which "will ease your transition and increase your odds of long-term leadership success" come into play in all situations, but must be applied in ways specific to the particular type of transition involved. The fundamental principles are (in edited form):
  • Organize to learn about the business — Figure out what you most need to learn, from whom, and how you can accelerate the learning process.

  • Define the new strategic intent for the organization — Develop and communicate a compelling vision for what the organization will become. Outline a clear strategy for achieving the vision.

  • Establish priorities — Identify a few vital goals and pursue them vigorously. Think about what you need to have accomplished by the end of your first year in your new position.

  • Build your leadership team — Evaluate the team you inherited. When bringing new members onto the team, aim for a balance between people from inside and outside the organization.

  • Secure early wins — Think through how you plan to "arrive" in the new organization. Find ways to build personal credibility and energize the ranks.

  • Create supporting alliances — Identify how the organization really works and who has influence. Create key coalitions in support of your initiatives.
In parallel with the above principles relating to managing organizational change, Watkins addresses the "pillars of self-management" that someone assuming a leadership role must embrace in order to adapt personally, as needed:
  • Enhance self-awareness — In particular, know the leadership style that you adopt most reflexively, and be prepared to set it aside for a more suitable style if the particular transition you're managing requires that.

  • Exercise personal discipline — Ask yourself what behaviors with which you are particularly comfortable, you should now be doing less of; and what behaviors that you don't much enjoy, you should now be doing more of.

  • Build complementary teams — Get people to help you who have strengths that offset your weaker points.
You can listen to Watkins discuss much of this material in the 9:24 video below, in which he is interviewed by Sarah Green, an editor at harvardbusiness.org. Watkins also talks about on-boarding and about how you can help your family adjust to changes they have to make (e.g., moving to a new city) because of your new role.


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Mongolian Women Farmers' Association (MWFA)

Mongolia is one of the areas of the world experiencing serious desertification.1 It is also a country with a low per capita income — $1,680 in 2008.2 The Mongolian Women Farmers' Association, founded in 1999 by a native agronomist and farmer named Byatshandaa Jargal, is working to help improve this ecological and economic situation.

Byatshandaa Jargal
(Women's World Summit Foundation)

As detailed in a December 2007 report (pdf) published by The Asia Foundation, which has provided MWFA with some funding, the MWFA's mission is to provide training, especially to female single parents, in how to raise organic vegetables and poultry. MWFA is also involved in planting trees and maintaining orchards.

Organic chickens being raised at an MWFA farm in an outlying Ger district of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia
(Dominic Hannigan's blog)

It is important to understand that growing vegetables is not something Mongolians have traditionally had experience with because the traditional — nomadic — diet is comprised mainly of meat, dairy products, and flour.

By adding vegetables (e.g., potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and carrots), mothers markedly enhance the quality of the family diet. In adition, income from selling surplus produce helps pay family expenses such as school fees, fees for medical services, and investment in household assets (e.g., cars, furniture, wells, mobile phones, TVs, computers).

MWFA has three training centers: in Bayankhoshuu (a Ger area in the western part of Ulaanbaatar, which is MWFA's base), Bayanzurkh (a Ger area in the eastern part of Ulaanbaatar), and Bayankhonger (the capital of Bayanhongor province in Mongolia's south; the training center is southwest of the city).

All told, the training centers train about 500-600 households a year and also provide follow-up advice. Trainees receive seed packets to get them started and, in some cases, a plot of land in a community farm. Otherwise, they do their farming in the land around their home (a ger or a house).

On October 7, Dorjgotov Ariungerel posted a report about Byatshandaa Jargal's work in which he explains how Byatshandaa's training efforts have had increasing impact as trained individuals in their turn train others.

Byatshandaa has written textbooks in Mongolian on vegetable farming and animal husbandry and also teaches vegetable gardening on TV.

The Asia Foundation's 2008 evaluation of MWFA's work was generally laudatory, though it did note a need to provide complementary training on household finances, business, selling, and marketing.

You can read Dominic Hannigan's account of his visit last year to a MWFA ger farm here. Hannigan is a Senator in the Irish Parliament. Another brief 2008 note by Gregory Cowan about the MWFA farm in Bayankhoshuu is here.

1 Brief background information on desertification in Mongolia is provided here by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

2 See World Bank (pdf). Mongolia ranks 151 on the World Bank's listing of per capita incomes for 210 countries.


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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective VII

From Part VI, Section III, of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments . . .

To act according to the dictates of prudence, of justice, and proper beneficence, seems to have no great merit where there is no temptation to do otherwise. But to act with cool deliberation in the midst of the greatest dangers and difficulties; to observe religiously the sacred rules of justice in spite both of the greatest interests which might tempt, and the greatest injuries which might provoke us to violate them; never to suffer the benevolence of our temper to be damped or discouraged by the malignity and ingratitude of the individuals towards whom it may have been exercised; is the character of the most exalted wisdom and virtue. Self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from it all the other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org.]


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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective VI

From Book I, Chapter XI, of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations . . .

The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufacture, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

[Source: www.bartleby.org]



Monday, October 19, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective V

From Part III, Chapter III, of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments . . .

The animosity of hostile factions, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is often still more furious than that of hostile nations; and their conduct towards one another is often still more atrocious. What may be called the laws of faction have often been laid down by grave authors with still less regard to the rules of justice than what are called the laws of nations. The most ferocious patriot never stated it as a serious question, Whether faith ought to be kept with public enemies? — Whether faith ought to be kept with rebels? Whether faith ought to be kept with heretics? are questions which have been often furiously agitated by celebrated doctors both civil and ecclesiastical. It is needless to observe, I presume, that both rebels and heretics are those unlucky persons, who, when things have come to a certain degree of violence, have the misfortune to be of the weaker party. In a nation distracted by faction, there are, no doubt, always a few, though commonly but a very few, who preserve their judgment untainted by the general contagion. They seldom amount to more than, here and there, a solitary individual, without any influence, excluded, by his own candour, from the confidence of either party, and who, though he may be one of the wisest, is necessarily, upon that very account, one of the most insignificant men in the society. All such people are held in contempt and derision, frequently in detestation, by the furious zealots of both parties. A true party-man hates and despises candour; and, in reality, there is no vice which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a party-man as that single virtue. The real, revered, and impartial spectator, therefore, is, upon no occasion, at a greater distance than amidst the violence and rage of contending parties. To them, it may be said, that such a spectator scarce exists any where in the universe. Even to the great Judge of the universe, they impute all their own prejudices, and often view that Divine Being as animated by all their own vindictive and implacable passions. Of all the corrupters of moral sentiments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the greatest.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org.]


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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective IV

From Book I, Chapter II, of the original 1776 edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations . . .

... thus the certainty of being able to exchange all that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce of other men's labour as he may have occasion for, encourages every man to apply himself to a particular occupation, and to cultivate and bring to perfection whatever talent or genius he may possess for that particular species of business.

The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org]

See also: "The Expert Mind".


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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective III

Below, in its entirety, is Chapter III of Part I, Section III, of the 1759 edition of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. From reading this passage, you can get a good sense of Smith's views concerning ethics and people's natural moral and not-so-moral inclinations.

* * *

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.

We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. To deserve, to acquire, and to enjoy the respect and admiration of mankind, are the great objects of ambition and emulation. Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which we may fashion our own character and behaviour; the one more gaudy and glittering in its colouring; the other more correct and more exquisitely beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every wandering eye; the other, attracting the attention of scarce any body but the most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness.

The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, different from that which we conceive for wealth and greatness; and it requires no very nice discernment to distinguish the difference. But, notwithstanding this difference, those sentiments bear a very considerable resemblance to one another. In some particular features they are, no doubt, different, but, in the general air of the countenance, they seem to be so very nearly the same, that inattentive observers are very apt to mistake the one for the other.

In equal degrees of merit there is scarce any man who does not respect more the rich and the great, than the poor and the humble. With most men the presumption and vanity of the former are much more admired, than the real and solid merit of the latter. It is scarce agreeable to good morals, or even to good language, perhaps, to say, that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, deserve our respect. We must acknowledge, however, that they almost constantly obtain it; and that they may, therefore, be considered as, in some respects, the natural objects of it. Those exalted stations may, no doubt, be completely degraded by vice and folly. But the vice and folly must be very great, before they can operate this complete degradation. The profligacy of a man of fashion is looked upon with much less contempt and aversion, than that of a man of meaner condition. In the latter, a single transgression of the rules of temperance and propriety, is commonly more resented, than the constant and avowed contempt of them ever is in the former.

In the middling and inferior stations of life, the road to virtue and that to fortune, to such fortune, at least, as men in such stations can reasonably expect to acquire, are, happily in most cases, very nearly the same. In all the middling and inferior professions, real and solid professional abilities, joined to prudent, just, firm, and temperate conduct, can very seldom fail of success. Abilities will even sometimes prevail where the conduct is by no means correct. Either habitual imprudence, however, or injustice, or weakness, or profligacy, will always cloud, and sometimes depress altogether, the most splendid professional abilities. Men in the inferior and middling stations of life, besides, can never be great enough to be above the law, which must generally overawe them into some sort of respect for, at least, the more important rules of justice. The success of such people, too, almost always depends upon the favour and good opinion of their neighbours and equals; and without a tolerably regular conduct these can very seldom be obtained. The good old proverb, therefore, That honesty is the best policy, holds, in such situations, almost always perfectly true. In such situations, therefore, we may generally expect a considerable degree of virtue; and, fortunately for the good morals of society, these are the situations of by far the greater part of mankind.

In the superior stations of life the case is unhappily not always the same. In the courts of princes, in the drawing-rooms of the great, where success and preferment depend, not upon the esteem of intelligent and well-informed equals, but upon the fanciful and foolish favour of ignorant, presumptuous, and proud superiors; flattery and falsehood too often prevail over merit and abilities. In such societies the abilities to please, are more regarded than the abilities to serve. In quiet and peaceable times, when the storm is at a distance, the prince, or great man, wishes only to be amused, and is even apt to fancy that he has scarce any occasion for the service of any body, or that those who amuse him are sufficiently able to serve him. The external graces, the frivolous accomplishments of that impertinent and foolish thing called a man of fashion, are commonly more admired than the solid and masculine virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legislator. All the great and awful virtues, all the virtues which can fit, either for the council, the senate, or the field, are, by the insolent and insignificant flatterers, who commonly figure the most in such corrupted societies, held in the utmost contempt and derision. When the duke of Sully was called upon by Lewis the Thirteenth, to give his advice in some great emergency, he observed the favourites and courtiers whispering to one another, and smiling at his unfashionable appearance. 'Whenever your majesty's father,' said the old warrior and statesman, 'did me the honour to consult me, he ordered the buffoons of the court to retire into the antechamber.' It is from our disposition to admire, and consequently to imitate, the rich and the great, that they are enabled to set, or to lead what is called the fashion. Their dress is the fashionable dress; the language of their conversation, the fashionable style; their air and deportment, the fashionable behaviour. Even their vices and follies are fashionable; and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them in the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them. Vain men often give themselves airs of a fashionable profligacy, which, in their hearts, they do not approve of, and of which, perhaps, they are really not guilty. They desire to be praised for what they themselves do not think praise-worthy, and are ashamed of unfashionable virtues which they sometimes practise in secret, and for which they have secretly some degree of real veneration There are hypocrites of wealth and greatness, as well as of religion and virtue; and a vain man is as apt to pretend to be what he is not, in the one way, as a cunning man is in the other. He assumes the equipage and splendid way of living of his superiors, without considering that whatever may be praise-worthy in any of these, derives its whole merit and propriety from its suitableness to that situation and fortune which both require and can easily support the expence. Many a poor man places his glory in being thought rich, without considering that the duties (if one may call such follies by so very venerable a name) which that reputation imposes upon him, must soon reduce him to beggary, and render his situation still more unlike that of those whom he admires and imitates, than it had been originally.

To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too frequently abandon the paths of virtue; for unhappily, the road which leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in very opposite directions. But the ambitious man flatters himself that, in the splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of the steps by which he arrived at that elevation. In many governments the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being called to account for the means by which they acquired it. They often endeavour, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal; but sometimes by the perpetration of the most enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebellion and civil war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand in the way of their greatness. They more frequently miscarry than succeed; and commonly gain nothing but the disgraceful punishment which is due to their crimes. But, though they should be so lucky as to attain that wished-for greatness, they are always most miserably disappointed in the happiness which they expect to enjoy in it. It is not ease or pleasure, but always honour, of one kind or another, though frequently an honour very ill understood, that the ambitious man really pursues. But the honour of his exalted station appears, both in his own eyes and in those of other people, polluted and defiled by the baseness of the means through which he rose to it. Though by the profusion of every liberal expence; though by excessive indulgence in every profligate pleasure, the wretched, but usual, resource of ruined characters; though by the hurry of public business, or by the prouder and more dazzling tumult of war, he may endeavour to efface, both from his own memory and from that of other people, the remembrance of what he has done; that remembrance never fails to pursue him. He invokes in vain the dark and dismal powers of forgetfulness and oblivion. He remembers himself what he has done, and that remembrance tells him that other people must likewise remember it. Amidst all the gaudy pomp of the most ostentatious greatness; amidst the venal and vile adulation of the great and of the learned; amidst the more innocent, though more foolish, acclamations of the common people; amidst all the pride of conquest and the triumph of successful war, he is still secretly pursued by the avenging furies of shame and remorse; and, while glory seems to surround him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, sees black and foul infamy fast pursuing him, and every moment ready to overtake him from behind. Even the great Caesar, though he had the magnanimity to dismiss his guards, could not dismiss his suspicions. The remembrance of Pharsalia still haunted and pursued him. When, at the request of the senate, he had the generosity to pardon Marcellus, he told that assembly, that he was not unaware of the designs which were carrying on against his life; but that, as he had lived long enough both for nature and for glory, he was contented to die, and therefore despised all conspiracies. He had, perhaps, lived long enough for nature. But the man who felt himself the object of such deadly resentment, from those whose favour he wished to gain, and whom he still wished to consider as his friends, had certainly lived too long for real glory; or for all the happiness which he could ever hope to enjoy in the love and esteem of his equals.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org.]



Friday, October 16, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective II

From Book I, Chapter II, of the original 1776 edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations . . .

... man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org]


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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adam Smith Retrospective I

From Part III, Chapter 2, of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, whose first edition Adam Smith published in 1759 . . .

He is a bold surgeon, they say, whose hand does not tremble when he performs an operation upon his own person; and he is often equally bold who does not hesitate to pull off the mysterious veil of self-delusion, which covers from his view the deformities of his own conduct. Rather than see our own behaviour under so disagreeable an aspect, we too often, foolishly and weakly, endeavour to exasperate anew those unjust passions which had formerly misled us; we endeavour by artifice to awaken our old hatreds, and irritate afresh our almost forgotten resentments: we even exert ourselves for this miserable purpose, and thus persevere in injustice, merely because we once were unjust, and because we are ashamed and afraid to see that we were so.

So partial are the views of mankind with regard to the propriety of their own conduct, both at the time of action and after it; and so difficult is it for them to view it in the light in which any indifferent spectator would consider it. But if it was by a peculiar faculty, such as the moral sense is supposed to be, that they judged of their own conduct, if they were endued with a particular power of perception, which distinguished the beauty or deformity of passions and affections; as their own passions would be more immediately exposed to the view of this faculty, it would judge with more accuracy concerning them, than concerning those of other men, of which it had only a more distant prospect.

This self-deceit, this fatal weakness of mankind, is the source of half the disorders of human life. If we saw ourselves in the light in which others see us, or in which they would see us if they knew all, a reformation would generally be unavoidable.

[Source: www.adamsmith.org]

See also "Preach What Your Practice."


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Oliver Williamson's Research on the Role of Firms

Yesterday's post dealt with the work of Elinor Ostrom, one of this year's recipients of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Today, I'll highlight the work of Ostrom's co-winner, Oliver Williamson, an emeritus professor of business, economics, and law at the University of California-Berkeley.

Oliver Williamson
(The Seoul Times)

The basic question Williamson has examined in his research is what determines when the market is the best mechanism for handling business transactions, and when the firm is best.

Answering this question required Williamson to investigate what sorts of transaction costs make use of the firm structure — a hierarchical structure — more economical, relative to depending on market dealings.

As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences explains in its summary for the public,
... Williamson expects hierarchical organizations to emerge when transactions are complex or non-standard [making it hard to write complete and enforceable contracts], and when parties are mutually dependent. Perhaps the most typical case of mutual dependence is that parties have assets, either physical assets or knowledge, which are only valuable inside a relationship.
For example:
The value of a coal mine in case the owner cannot agree on the terms of trade with a nearby power plant depends on the distance to the second-nearest buyer of coal, which is usually another power plant. Likewise, the value of a coal-burning power plant in case it cannot trade with the nearby coal mine depends on the distance to the second nearest mine. The larger the distances, the greater is the mutual dependence, and — according to the theory — the more likely the mine and the plant are vertically integrated. This is precisely what is observed. When there are other nearby mines and power plants, firms are typically incorporated separately and trade under relatively short and simple contracts. As the distance to alternative trading partners increases, contract duration and complexity also increase. According to one of the studies, a coal-burning power plant that is located next to a coal mine is about six times more likely to be fully integrated than is any other coal-burning power plant.
For further coverage of Williamson's work, touching upon the evidence for the validity of his theory, its policy implications, and how it has been expanded and deepened by other researchers, you can read the Academy of Sciences' Scientific Background (pdf – about six pages each on Williamson and Ostrom).


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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Elinor Ostrom's Research on Management of Common Resources

You can get an overview of Elinor Ostrom's work on "self-organizing and self-governing forms of collective action" in an interview (pdf) she gave Paul Aligica in 2003.

Elinor Ostrom talking in Stockholm about getting "Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons" (2009)
(Stockholm Resilience Centre)

Ostrom, a political science professor at Indiana University, shared this year's Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel with Oliver E. Williamson, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley (and the subject of tomorrow's post).

In the interview, Ostrom explains the gist of her thinking:
Academics, aid donors, international nongovernmental organizations, central governments, and local citizens need to learn and relearn that no government can develop the full array of knowledge, institutions and social capital needed to govern development efficiently and sustainably. The sheer variety of cultural and biological adaptations to diverse ecological conditions is so great that I am willing to make the following assertion: Any single, comprehensive set of formal laws intended to govern a large expanse of territory containing diverse ecological niches is bound to fail in many of the areas where it is applied.

Improving the abilities of those directly engaged in the particulars of their local conditions to organize themselves in deeply nested enterprises is potentially a more successful strategy for solving resource problems than attempting to implement idealized, theoretically optimal institutional arrangements. There is plenty that national government officials can do to help a self-governing society. They can provide efficient, fair, and honest court systems, effective property right systems and large-scale infrastructure projects — such as national highways — that cannot be provided locally.
Ostrom emphasizes the importance of viewing self-organized groups as complex adaptive systems and of recognizing the value of polycentric governance.
Complex adaptive systems are composed of a large number of active elements whose rich patterns of interaction produce emergent properties that are not easy to predict by analyzing the separate parts of a system. One can see them as consisting of rules and interacting agents that adapt by changing the rules dynamically on the basis of experience. ... [S]ocial scientists have yet to develop many of the concepts needed to understand the adaptability of systems. ...

Many of the capabilities of complex adaptive systems are retained in a polycentric public enterprise system. By "polycentric" I mean a system where citizens are able to organize not just one but multiple governing authorities, as well as private arrangements, at different scales. Each unit may exercise considerable independence to make and enforce rules within a circumscribed scope of authority for a specified geographical area. ... Self-organized resource governance systems, in such a system, may be special districts, private associations, or parts of a local government.


Serious empirical research has now shown that polycentric systems tend to generate higher levels of output at similar or lower costs than monocentric systems governing similar ecological, urban, and social systems.
Another, more recent overview of Ostrom's work is provided in the video below, which records the 8½-minute talk she gave earlier this year at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

(Background information on Ostrom's Stockholm talk is here.)


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Monday, October 12, 2009

Texas State History Museum

Poster advertising steamship service between Hamburg, Germany, and Antwerp, Belgium, on one side of the Atlantic, and Galveston, Texas, on the other

The one other sightseeing stop I made while I was in Austin, besides the Blanton Museum of Art mentioned yesterday, was the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The museum is laid out in modern museum style, meaning great care has been taken to tell the state's story from multiple perspectives, with ample attention to the experiences of ordinary people — Native Americans, Mexicans, immigrants from elsewhere in the US, and immigrants from abroad.

The latter group are the subject of a special exhibit, Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island. I certainly had not been aware of the large number of immigrants who entered the US at Galveston, and was glad to learn about their experience through the memorabilia on display, accompanied by interactive exhibits, video, and explanatory text.

The Galveston exhibit closed at the Texas State History Museum yesterday and will now be taken to other venues, including Moody Gardens in Galveston and the Ellis Island Museum.



Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Blanton Museum of Art

My trip to Austin extended over less than two days, but I did manage to see a few sights. One was the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas. A sampling of the pictures I viewed is below.

Sioux Village Near Fort Laramie
Albert Bierstadt, 1859

(Blanton Museum of Art)

Oil Field Girls
Jerry Bywaters, 1940

(Blanton Museum of Art)

Indians at Campfire, Yosemite Valley, California
Thomas Hill, c. 1885

(Blanton Museum of Art)


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Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin TX

A view of the garden of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, where my nephew is getting married today. The garden and museum are the site for works of Charles Umlauf and other contemporary sculptors.

(Suburban Wildlife Garden)


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Friday, October 09, 2009

Making Micro Insurance Work

As noted in an earlier post, when households have increased access to microcredit, one of the impacts can be less use of insurance because microloans make it easier to obtain informal credit in the event of a financial shock.

Last month, Knowledge@Wharton offered an overview of steadily expanding efforts to market microinsurance effectively to poor people in developing countries. As the article explains, micro insurance comprises
risk-sharing products characterized by low premiums and coverage limits [and it] generally covers everything from life and health care to weather, property, agriculture, livestock and catastrophe.
For example, in a pilot program in Bangladesh, a partnership of six NGOs and a local insurance company is offering a product that combines life insurance with some hospitalization coverage. The basic idea is to provide a formal safety net for people who have income, even if small, to protect.

The article discusses the issues participants in micro insurance market need to address, such as making sure the perils covered by property and casualty insurance are relevant for a particular locality. Another key issue is developing a solid partnership among the parties involved — typically, NGOs, micro finance institutions, insurance companies, regulators, and community groups. Last but not least is the issue of educating both the target population and the micro insurance providers.

You can learn more about good practice in micro insurance by reading a 2008 report, Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Donors Supporting Microinsurance (pdf), prepared by Taara Chandani for the CGAP Working Group on Microinsurance, with the support of USAID; and Protecting the Poor: A Microinsurance Compendium, published in 2006 by the Munich Re Foundation.


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Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Lesson from the Little League

It's a classic challenge: How to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you." Rudyard Kipling wasn't thinking of baseball umpires when he wrote "If," but the frustrating situations he enumerates do bear a resemblance to what umpires, and anyone else in an arbitrator's role, has to be prepared to cope with.

I recently came upon a set of online tips that Little League Baseball provides its umpires that seem apt for people in other organizations, including businesses, where knowing how to manage conflict is an essential skill.

The Little League offers these words to the wise:

Umpires must walk a fine line between keeping the game under control and not exacerbating situations with over-aggressive or arrogant actions. Although every situation is unique, umpires on the field should follow the guidelines below:
  1. Umpires should remain calm, professional, tactful, firm, in control, fair and impartial. They cannot be perceived as overly aggressive, confrontational, hot-headed, short-tempered, timid, intimidated or nervous. Umpires must never display impatience or a condescending attitude.

  2. Umpires are expected to understand their role as a steady, calming influence on the game. Umpires must be able to sort out complex and important situations and cannot be hesitant to make unpopular decisions.

  3. Umpires should never ignore occurrences on the field that require their attention to maintain order and control. But when difficult situations arise, it is essential that umpires stay above the emotional fray and never lower themselves to the excitable level of a particular player, manager, or coach. Umpires must be clear and decisive, while not overly aggressive or overbearing. They are expected to become more assertive if the situation calls for such, but must control their temper at all times. All in all, umpires must calm volatile situations while keeping control and managing them.

  4. Umpires should listen to managers if discussions are reasonable and non-emotional. Umpires are to be firm and authoritative in conversations with managers — but should never initiate an argument. Umpires must not create unnecessary friction by ignoring reasonable inquiries. At the same time, umpires must command respect during difficult situations and never tolerate personal abuse.

  5. Umpires must avoid sarcastic remarks and profanity and not insist on the last word.

  6. Umpires cannot look for trouble or invite arguments. If a situation can defuse itself, umpires must allow it to happen. Umpires must not be perceived as having escalated a situation.
Interestingly, at least to me, this Little League advisory, which basically describes unfailingly professional behavior, is addressed to a group of people that is almost entirely made up of volunteers. Surely it is not too much to expect employees at all levels (though not of all ages, since allowance must be made for youthful errors) to meet a comparable standard in the workplace.


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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Tendency to Stereotype Can Strengthen as One Ages

Another reason to give emphasis to developing critical thinking habits has emerged in recent research. It seems that as one ages there is a tendency to give greater rein to stereotypes in one's thinking. More precisely, as reported at Miller-McCune.com, researchers have found that "older people have difficulty suppressing stereotypes, which means many may become prejudiced against their will."

One study was conducted by William von Hippel and Gabriel Radvansky, psychology professors at the University of Queensland and Notre Dame, respectively. They found that older adults are "relatively more likely to draw and remember stereotypic inferences." Specifically, when reading stories involving characters, such as African Americans and Jews, who are susceptible to stereotyping, the older experimental subjects were more likely than the younger subjects to embed in their memories versions of the stories that included stereotyped views of the characters.

A second study, by Radvansky, von Hippel, and Nicholas Lynchard, a graduate student in psychology at Notre Dame, offers a method for deterring this tendency to stereotype more firmly as one ages. Providing counter-stereotypic information in a narrative makes a big difference. The researchers explain:
... when counter-stereotypic information is explicitly provided at encoding [i.e., when a narrative is first read], older adults are no more likely than younger adults to rely on stereotypes, and are similarly capable of altering their interpretation of a situation when information suggests that interpretation is incorrect.
This result indicates that people can help each other steer clear of stereotyping by speaking up when stereotypes are brought into a conversation. Employees' calmly rejecting stereotypes that stray into discussions with colleagues is certainly something organizations should support.



Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Shortcomings of GDP as a Measure of Value

You only have to glance at any large newspaper to recognize how closely changes in the gross domestic product — GDP — of countries around the world are followed. And, assuming there are no dramatic changes in the composition of a countries' output, generally a safe assumption in the short run, this makes good sense.

If, on the other hand, you're trying to measure the value of a country's output in its own right (rather than focusing on economic growth), there are substantial problems with using GDP as your metric. For example, all underground and non-market economic activity (such as work done by homemakers) is excluded. Also, changes in the quality of products, such as high-tech items, are poorly captured, and output that one would happily avoid if it were possible, such as spending on war materiel, is treated the same as spending on benign goods.

There are various alternative measures that have been designed in an effort to develop a more meaningful measure of national output. For instance, the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College has developed the Measure of Economic Well-Being, and the country of Bhutan gauges its socioeconomic situation with Gross Domestic Happiness.

Another perspective on the shortcomings of GDP as a measure of the value of national output appears in the Fall 2009 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review. Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and Adam Saunders, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School, argue that the information sector (software, publishing, motion picture and sound recording, broadcasting, telecom, and information and data processing services) is seriously undermeasured in GDP. Why? Because the prices of modern digitized information sources are so low (zero in some cases) relative to the prices of the physical information sources (e.g., encyclopedias and CDs) that they substitute for.

Brynjolfsson and Saunders say:
The irony of the information age is that we know less about the sources of value in the economy than we did 25 years ago. GDP is a more accurate metric of value in industrial-age industries like steel or automobiles than in information industries, and can miss most of the value in information goods.
Brynjolfsson and Saunders recommend looking instead at consumer surplus, "the aggregate net benefit that consumers receive from using goods or services after subtracting the price they paid."

Measuring consumer surplus is harder than measuring GDP because the amount of consumer surplus must be inferred. This is done by running price experiments from purchase data, running lab experiments, and conducting surveys.

Brynjolfsson and Saunders walk their readers through an example taken from the music recording industry that clarifies the concept of consumer surplus and how it can give a more accurate picture of value being created in an economy — with specific focus on the information sector.



Monday, October 05, 2009

Modern Advice on Getting Recruiter Attention

On October 2, Traci Armstrong and Tracy Coté posted at BNET.com a set of seven concrete tips "for helping hiring managers find your resume online." Anyone searching for a job would benefit from acting on this advice.

In brief:
  1. There are a number of sites, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, where you need to establish an attractive presence. Armstrong and Cote also suggest setting up your own web page, on which you can then post your resume.

  2. Carefully choose keywords relating to your skills, experience, and work history that match the keywords you anticipate recruiters with suitable jobs will be searching on.

  3. Use a version of your name that is reasonably distinctive. (This particular tip is one I won't be following since I've always enjoyed having a simple name. Instead, I depend on my company name to make me stand out.)

  4. Participate in social media interactions. Consider doing some blogging, perhaps as a guest on an established blog that's relevant to your field and interests.

  5. If you're blogging, and you have creative work you can show off, go beyond simply demonstrating your writing skills. I.e., include photographs, illustrations, etc. Give them informative captions and suitable tags. Also, "make sure all of your digital profiles link to your blog, driving traffic to it and improving your Google ranking."

  6. Tweet and encourage re-tweets. The more click-throughs you get, the higher your Google ranking.

  7. Join groups. "Look for like-minded people in your industry and find ways to interact. Be open about your job seach, join discussions, answer questions and post links to valuable content ..."
The name of the game is making it highly probable that you, your resume, and samples of your work will surface when recruiters you'd like a chance to talk to are searching for promising-looking individuals to contact.


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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mercedes Sosa, 1935-2009

Mercedes Sosa
(Rider Audio & Media)

The video below shows Sosa singing "Cuando Tenga la Tierra" at the 1983 Central American Peace Concert, held in the square in front of the cathedral in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Washington Post posted a detailed obituary today (though it carries tomorrow's date).


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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Blythe McGarvie on Business Performance Management

The CFO Project is a periodic publication of Montgomery Research that offers "ideas, points of view, vendor profiles, and company case studies" that launched in October 2002. Three volumes have been published so far:
  1. Competitive Financial Operations (2002) — "designed to provide insights for finance executives interested in creating transaction processing and performance reporting solutions that are efficient and effective on a global scale."

  2. Business Analytics and Performance Management (2003 – the only volume, so far, with a distinctive title) — "focused on targeting value opportunities, improving performance management capabilities, and delivering analytics to drive improved results across geographies, business units, and customer segments."

  3. Competitive Financial Operations: The CFO Project (2007) — explores "the way CFOs are managing [the] tricky balancing act between serving as internal 'traffic cop' and forward-thinking business leader" and presents "expertise on corporate governance, risk management, achieving compliance and transparency, business planning, executive compensation and more."
The papers are available online to anyone who registers for a membership or subscription.

The only item I can personally vouch for is an excellent four-page case study (pdf) that I encountered a few days ago and was quite taken with. Blythe J.McGarvie, currently CEO of LIF [Leadership for International Finance] Group, writes about her experience over thirty years with the gradual maturation of tools and techniques of business performance management (BPM).

As you would expect of an expert in accounting and finance, McGarvie evaluates advances in the technology and techniques available to finance departments in terms of how substantial has been their impact on capacity for analysis and effective decision-making. She identifies several stages in her own experience with advances in BPM:
  • Integration of reporting and planning, which enabled companies "to determine which products and customers were driving — or dragging — profitability." This, in turn, enabled better decision-making concerning how to improve the profitability of particular products and customers.

  • Making the budgeting process a bona fide planning process, i.e., "budgeting became a more integrated, holistic and foundational business management exercise. Strategy was determined through the budgeting processes, and compensation incentives were married to business objectives."

  • Integration of the operating and capital budgeting processes, so that managers were forced to take the cost of capital into account in making spending decisions. This is the economic value added (EVA) concept.

  • Extending BPM beyond finance, e.g., by using BPM techniques to improve inventory management in retail operations. McGarvie describes how Hannaford Supermarkets built a detailed model — broken down by product and category — of their revenue and costs. The model enabled granular measurement of product and category profitability, an advance that "changed the way the store managers ordered inventory and how they did business."
The above is a drastic condensation of what McGarvie has to say in her case study. Reading the whole thing is highly recommended.

A complete listing of the CFO Project white papers is here. A list of "solutions," organized by topic, is here. A list of all the case studies is here. Note that these three types of content are not mutually exclusive.


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