I want to say one more thing about politics.
One of the legacies of the counterculture, particularly on the left, is the idea that expression is action. This idea has haunted those of us on the left for a long time.
But one of the reasons that the Tea Party came to power was that they organized—they built institutions. So the challenge for those of us who want a different world is not to simply trust that the expressive variety that the internet permits is the key to freedom. Rather, we need to seek a kind of freedom that involves people not like us, that builds institutions that support people not like us—not just ones that help gratify our desires to find new partners or build better micro-worlds.
The New Communalists believed that the micro-world was where politics happened. If we could just build a better micro-world, we could live by example to create a better world for the whole. I think that’s wrong. Our challenge is to build a world that takes responsibility for people not like ourselves. And it’s a challenge we won’t meet by enhancing our expressive abilities, or improving the technologies of expressive connection.
When you take away bureaucracy and hierarchy and politics, you take away the ability to negotiate the distribution of resources on explicit terms. And you replace it with charisma, with cool, with shared but unspoken perceptions of power. You replace it with the cultural forces that guide our behavior in the absence of rules.
The other thing to say about the utopian idea is that it lives in the Valley partly as a marketing strategy. This is a political operation of the first importance. If the Valley can convince Washington that the Valley is the home of the future and that its leaders see things that leaders back in stuffy old DC can’t see, then they can also make a case for being deregulated.
Why regulate the future? Who wants to do that?
So, it’s very tactical. Claiming the high ground of the utopian future is a very tactical claim.
Engineers try to do politics by changing infrastructure.
That’s what they do. They tweak infrastructure. It’s a little bit like an ancient Roman trying to shape public debate by reconfiguring the Forum. “We’ll have seven new entrances instead of six, and the debate will change.”
The engineering world doesn’t have a conception of how to intervene in debate that isn’t infrastructural.
What are the “politics of infrastructure”? What does that phrase mean?
It means several different things. First, it involves the recognition that the built environment, whether it’s built out of tarmac or concrete or code, has political effects. I was joking earlier about reshaping the Forum, but I shouldn’t have joked quite so much, because the fact that the Forum was round encouraged one kind of debate.
Think about an auditorium where someone sits onstage and the audience watches, versus a Quaker meeting where everyone sits in a circle. They’re very different.
So, structure matters. Design is absolutely critical. Design is the process by which the politics of one world become the constraints on another. How are those constraints built? What are its effects on political life?
To study the politics of infrastructure is to study the political ideas that get built into the design process, and the infrastructure’s impact on the political possibilities of the communities that engage it.
So, with your research and your user needs, you know what is important for your audience. With that in mind you can put what most people are looking for right up front. This is the 80/20 rule. Put the information that 80% of your audience is looking for first. The information the other 20% of your audience is looking for should be there – and findable from a search engine – but not front and centre. It will put off 80% of your audience.
Subheadings help you remember and understand. When you read a very complex or long document, your brain will see subheadings as markers. If you need to go back through the text you have read, it’s easier to remember where that info is if there’s a subheading nearby (particularly if your subheadings tell a coherent story).
I’ve found the best way to get the rest of an organisation to agree with my work and approach is to run a workshop where all the right people are together.
My advice is to invite anyone and everyone who might influence, stop or change your content.
Get the fact-checkers, the lawyers, the bosses – anyone who might feel the need to interfere.
People who are well read (aka not dumb) read a lot. They don’t have time to wade through jargon. They want the information else quickly and easily – just like everyone else. Wanting to understand quickly has little to do with intelligence. It has a lot to do with time and respect.
Filling web pages with turgid prose doesn’t make anyone look clever; it makes them look arrogant and disrespectful. They don’t care what people think of the writing or how long it takes the audience to get through it.
The rules are: be respectful, everyone did the best job possible with the knowledge they had at the time. Only discuss the content, not the person who created it. Only give constructive criticism: “That’s crap” is unhelpful and unacceptable. No one has to defend a decision.
Job stories are a better choice if you only have one audience to deal with. You know you need to switch from user stories to job stories if every single user story you write begins with the same thing. If you’re writing ‘As a shopper, I…’ at the beginning of every user story, switch to job stories.
If you have multiple audiences, each of which has different needs for different kinds of content and different levels of detail, you may find user stories better.
A point to note on this one: some organisations don’t want to make contact easy. Some don’t want their audience to engage – which in the digital age is madness. Users will find your contact details even if you don’t provide them. So make your contact details easy to find – you’ll frustrate your users less.
In his study ‘How Little Do Users Read?’, Jakob Nielsen found that online, people only read 20-28% of the page. The cognitive load (in other words, the mental effort required to take in the information) increases 11% for every 100 words added to the page.
Job stories are for specific tasks and usually when you have one audience.
They are good for targeted actions.
Job stories always start with: When [there’s a particular situation], I want to [perform an action or find something out], So I can [achieve my goal of…]
For the UK in 2015: 11% of adults (5.9 million) have never used the internet.
Text presented in sentence case is the most familiar style for most people and, therefore, usually the fastest to read.
A user story is a way of pinning down what the team need todo without telling them how to do it.
A user story looks like this: As a [person in a particular role], I want to [perform an action or find something out], So that [achieve my goal of…]
Most probably do 4 to 5 saccades per second, and a regression once every 2 seconds. This leads to a typographical consideration. If lines of text are too short, you’ll increase regressive saccades. If they are too long, the return path is too long and people can get confused about where their eye needs to go back to.
Humans learn, evolve and adapt and you need to adapt with them. Assume nothing, question everything and test until you are sure.
Then go and do it again.
The Oxford Guide to Plain English recommends words per sentence. It also says: ‘If you regularly exceed 40 words, you’ll certainly weary and deter your readers’
Jyoti Sanyal, author of Indlish (the book for every English-speaking Indian), said: ‘Based on several studies, press associations in the USA have laid down a readability table. Their survey shows readers find sentences of 8 words or less very easy to read; 11 words, easy; 14 words fairly easy; 17 words standard; 21 words fairly difficult; 25 words difficult and 29 words or more, very difficult.’
Author Ann Wylie said: ‘When the average sentence length in a piece was fewer than 8 words long, readers understood 100% of the story. At 14 words, they could comprehend more than 90% of the information. But move up to 43-word sentences and comprehension dropped below 10 percent.’
Don’t call it a meeting. Sometimes, a word like workshop does the job, but it is overused and can mean different things to different people.
…you call it a ‘decision-making session’.
This will stand out in people’s email inboxes. It sounds final and it has an action attached. People in places of authority or responsibility either love, or are scared of decisions. Either way, you probably have their attention. It also sends a clear message to those people. They: are expected to make a decision, may feel they’ll miss something important if they are not there, and are much more likely to open that email.
The way you do bulleted lists is a matter of style. Generally I’d go with: if it has a lead-in sentence, use lowercase at the start of each of the bullet points. If there’s no lead-in, uppercase. Punctuation at the end of a sentence is entirely optional. Screen readers (software products designed to help people with visual impairments read digital content) will pause longer if there is a comma at the end of each point. That’s about it, though.
There’s a book called ‘Information Foraging Theory’ written by Peter L T Pirolli, published in 2007. Despite its age, it’s an mine of information that is mostly still relevant today. In short (I’m reducing 216 pages to a sentence here), it says that users will go as far as they need to, and click as many times as they need to, as long as the scent of information’ is strong.
In other words: as long as a person thinks they will get the information they need, and they don’t think they are on the wrong path, they will continue for quite some time.
You can use this for structuring the information on your website, in-page copy, and tools and transactions. As long as you follow your audience’s mental model of how the information will be available, and you provide a strong scent of information, you are on the right path.
That’s not an excuse to be verbose. What I’m saying is: people don’t always abandon a task within a set number of clicks.
even those of us involved knew enough about cognitive biases to be wary of overconfidence. Thus one of the team’s first decisions was to plan its own demise if things did not work out. Well aware that many new government initiatives fail but yet linger indefinitely, the team built in a sunset clause. After two years, the BIT would be evaluated by the Cabinet Office and unless it could present solid evidence that it could produce results and save the British taxpayers money, it would be dissolved.
We tested whether adding a single sentence such as ‘most people pay their tax on time’ would boost repayment rates. It did –and by several percentage points, enough to bring forward tens of millions of pounds.
The team’s objectives read like a mission impossible: to transform the approach of at least two major departments; to inject a new and more realistic understanding of human behaviour across UK government; and to deliver at least a tenfold return on its cost. If it failed, it was to be shut down on its second anniversary –leaving enough time for voters to forget the whole embarrassing episode before the next election.
The team found that adding a simple (and true) statement on tax reminders that ‘most people pay their tax on time’ encouraged far more people to do so.
Getting the unemployed to think about what they could do in the next two weeks, instead of asking them what they had done in the previous two weeks, significantly increased the numbers off benefits at three months, getting tens of thousands back to work faster and trimming millions of days off benefits.
The US Office of War Information, created by Franklin D. Roosevelt, was reputed to have produced more than 200,000 different posters during the Second World War. These campaigns pursued a wide range of objectives, from encouraging people to buy war bonds; eating different, and previously unpalatable, foods; planting ‘victory gardens’; and bolstering the preparedness to fight and support the Allies. These campaigns were often highly successful. For example, billions of dollars were raised from US war bonds from the civilian population, including more than a billion from children alone. Similarly, vegetable production from the 50 million civilian ‘victory gardens’ is estimated to have exceeded that of commercial vegetable production.
while laws and punishments have often proved reasonably effective at getting people to stop doing something, they are often much less effective at getting people to start doing something, and certainly to persist with it.
A ‘nudge’ is essentially a means of encouraging or guiding behaviour, but without mandating or instructing, and ideally without the need for heavy financial incentives or sanctions.
Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,
there’s a basic behavioural phenomena that applies to both people and organisations around ‘commitment’: people and organisations are much more likely to do something if they were previously engaged in even a small commitment or helped build it themselves (the IKEA effect). Cialdini gives a neat example, in his early popularisation of the psychology of influence, of a restaurant that was struggling with large numbers of customers failing to turn up for bookings. Staff taking phone bookings were instructed to make a seemingly tiny change: to pause after asking customers ‘Would you let us know if you can’t make it?’ The pause –imagine it in your own head –leads to customers to fill it with a response, such as ‘sure’, or just ‘uh-huh’. And the effect? The number of customers failing to turn up without calling more than halved.
The decision to set up BIT with a default that it be shut after two years was based on my own experience of government, plus the desire to create a sense of urgency and momentum. I had seen too many units set up by previous governments that had failed to deliver, but limped on because no one got around to shutting them down. This way we would have a clear, time-limited target. It also enabled us to live by our own principles: we had effectively switched around the normal default of government teams so that the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary would have to make an active choice to keep the team going
embrace empirical methods. You’ll need to demonstrate to sceptics that your new approach works, and to quantify the impact. But, more fundamentally, you should follow a logic of test, learn, adapt –behavioural science is well suited to experimental approaches, and human responses are complicated and hard to perfectly predict.
the head of a tax office in a mediumsized country will have 50–100,000 staff, and be responsible for collecting hundreds of billions of pounds in revenue that every other department will rely on. To those who have spent years oiling and tuning it, what to you look like a ‘few’ ingenious changes will to them look like a dangerous risk of throwing grit into the cogs of their great machine. They know perfectly well that if the changes you make lead to things going wrong, tax collection not happening, or mistakes being made, support from your political masters will evaporate. And chances are they’ll have to pick up the pieces.
Just like MINDSPACE, EAST is a mnemonic. If you want to encourage a behaviour, you should think about making it: ￼ Easy. ￼ Attract. ￼ Social. ￼ Timely.
If you want someone to do something –pay their taxes, recycle, or take on an extra employee –a pretty good start is to ‘make it easy’.
But in the real world of things, of people and of bureaucracy, friction matters a great deal. Just as a real weight pushed across a real table will soon grind to a halt as a result of friction, a human impulse to do something soon grinds to a halt when it becomes a hassle. Hence John, the character at the start of this chapter, really did mean to start saving, and to get that ‘money on the table’. He just didn’t get around to it because it was an effort, involved tedious paperwork and was less attractive and urgent than all the other things he could be doing in the next hour or day. Frictional costs are not a peripheral issue. Rather, they often make all the difference between something happening or not, be it a stone rolling down a slope, or a policy succeeding or failing.
In 1980, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) introduced spot fines on motorcyclists not wearing helmets. The primary motivation was to reduce head injuries, but it had an unexpected and dramatic impact in a totally different area: thefts. In the wake of the change, motorcycle thefts fell by 60 per cent, and stayed down.
Laboratory studies show that an easy-to-read message is not only more likely to be understood, it is also more likely to be believed. By way of a simple illustration, subjects are more likely to believe a statement as true when it is written in bold rather than standard text.
We found that tax letters written in plain English, with a clear, simple request at the beginning, could often be 200–300 per cent more effective than the originals we compared them with. And, generally speaking, we found that ‘less is more’. For example, we found that click-throughs by businesses to get further information in response to emails from a major government agency could be increased by 40 to 60 per cent by reducing the volume of text in the email. Similarly, we found that sign-ups –from stopping smoking to youth skills and employment programmes –were significantly increased when the website landing pages were simplified and de-cluttered.
Low-income families, with children approaching college age, were offered a free service to pre-fill the college application forms using their tax and income information. The researchers found that pre-filling the forms, which took no more than a few minutes and cost just a few dollars, increased university enrolment from these lower income families by around a quarter (34 to 42 per cent), and increased the proportion receiving a scholarship by around a third. 9 The researchers also found that giving information, the standard government response, made no difference at all. Clearly the intervention was extremely cost-effective: a great many forms can be pre-filled for the equivalent cost of an expensive new scholarship or outreach programme.
in one series of letters from our tax department, the HMRC, taxpayers were given a web address where they could find the online tax forms to complete. If the recipient typed in the address, it took them to the HMRC’s webpage with the tax form clearly on it. All the person had to do then was click on the form and, of course, fill it in. It turned out that just under one in five people who received these letters did indeed go on to fill in the form and pay their tax as a result. We ran a trial testing a tiny change. The trial compared the effect of the original letter to one almost identical except that the web-link took people directly to the form, instead of to the page with the form on it. In other words, it saved people a single click, albeit at the cost of a couple of extra characters of text. The result? A 22 per cent increase in the proportion of people completing their tax forms in response to the letter.
certainly give ‘making it easier’ your best shot before spending an extra billion or two on tax subsidies.
doctors who argue that alcoholic drinks should contain calorie labelling, rather than information about how many ‘units’ of alcohol they contain, the idea being that some individuals (unaware of what an unhealthy intake of alcohol actually constitutes) might cut down on their drinking when they realise a glass of wine is equivalent to a slice of cake.
if you ever are in such a crowded situation in need of help, a pretty good idea is to point or look at someone in particular and say ‘I need help!’
Cialdini et al.’ s work also gave clues about messages that might work even better. His work suggests that people are more influenced by the behaviour of those they see as being more like themselves than by people in general. For example, guests are more likely to reuse hotel towels, thereby saving energy, if told that previous guests had done so, rather than people in general. On this basis we tested the line that ‘most people in your local area pay their tax on time’, and found this raised the payment rate by more than 2 per cent over control. Similarly, a little known exception to the rule that the more litter on the ground, the more likely a person is to discard a leaflet is that you are even less likely to drop litter in an otherwise perfectly clean environment with a single piece of litter than one with no litter at all. The single piece of litter seems to remind us that littering is the exception, and that disposing of it properly is the norm. This finding helped to shape the line that ‘most people with a debt like yours’ had already paid (‘ debt norm’). This was even more effective than the local social norm. Combining the two approaches into one, explaining that most people in your area had already paid, and that you were one of the few yet to do so raised the repayment rate by 5.4 percentage points, or an impressive 16 per cent increase in payment rate relative to the control letter.
Several studies have indicated that eyes or faces looking at us tend to make us behave more virtuously. Hence, posters with faces looking at us have been shown to increase substantially the likelihood that people will, for instance, clear away their trays in a canteen or use an honesty box in an unsupervised environment, while other images and messages had little effect.
a clear example of the ‘big mistake’. The normal centrepiece of campaigns to get more women on boards is a statistic along the lines ‘isn’t it shocking that only 25 per cent of board members are women?’ (less in some countries). It is shocking, but it’s also likely to be a message that inadvertently normalises the situation. On the other hand, if such campaigns made the equally valid point that ‘90 per cent of companies have women on their boards’, then the signalling is very different.
It turns out that one of the most powerful, but underused tools in the policymakers’ armoury is simply to provide a more accurate echo chamber of what others are doing. Since, in general, policy is aligned behind what the majority of people are already doing –such as paying tax and not hurting others –it is a tool that can be applied widely.
The weight curves given to US parents to plot their child’s development, for some years, have not been the actual weight curves of US children. Rather, they are distributions of ‘healthy weight’, driven by the concern that if parents used the actual weight curves of US children it would exacerbate the problem of obesity even further
many teachers and leaders soon learn that they had better follow a ‘tight-loose’ rule: enforce the good behaviour you want to see early on and you will generally find that later you can be much more relaxed.
why put the signature at the end? What if forms asked you to sign an honesty declaration before, rather than after, filling them in? Dan Ariely, Max Bazerman and colleagues tested this idea in the USA in a series of lab studies and found that people were indeed less likely to cheat if they signed a declaration of honesty before rather than after the opportunity to cheat. 3 They also tested the idea in an elegant real-world study on car insurance, where drivers were required to estimate how many miles they were likely to drive in the coming, or typical, year. The more miles you drive, the higher your insurance is likely to be, so drivers do have an incentive to ‘underestimate’. When the signature was brought to the top of the form, drivers declared on average an extra 2,428 miles, or a little over 10 per cent more. This in turn cost the average driver around $ 97 extra, a significant amount. Signing the honesty declaration before they filled in the number made them significantly more honest.
BIT ran a trial, led by our environment lead Marcos Pelenur, with a large retailer in the UK expressing the energy efficiency of appliances in terms of how much they are likely to cost to run over the products’ typical lifespan (typically around nine years). 5 Sure enough, when labels had this extra information consumers tended to buy slightly more expensive but more efficient products, at least in a product class with high usage costs, such as washer-dryers. Clearly, the effectiveness of the intervention rests on supplying that information while the consumer is still deciding what to buy.
‘hyperbolic discounting’: the further into the future a cost or benefit, the disproportionately smaller it becomes relative to immediate costs and benefits. We also know that this discounting curve is not smooth, but drops away more sharply with the boundaries that our minds use to divide up the future. Viewed from Monday, three or four days away is pretty close, but viewed from a Friday, three or four days away is another world away –it’s next week.
once we’ve mentally labelled something as ours, we value it much more highly than we did before. That’s one of the reasons so many of us find our homes full of bits and pieces that we really should have thrown out long ago, and if we saw the same type of thing in other people’s homes we’d surely think they should throw them out.
self-control is like a precious good that we use up. Lab studies show that people are much more likely to choose chocolate cake rather than a healthy snack after taking part in a task that requires self-control. 12 Similar effects appear to impact on professional judgements, too. In a now famous study, Danziger et al. found that judges moved from around 65 per cent favourable parole judgements at the beginning of the day to close to zero by late morning. After lunch, positive judgements surged back up to 65 per cent again, before dropping away by the end of the day. 13 Recent studies have shown similar results with other professional groups. The incidence of hand-washing has been found to fall across care workers’ 12-hour shifts, with the drop accelerating the more stressful the shift was. Furthermore, the shorter the break before the shift started, the faster the rate of decline. 14 Similarly, doctors have been found to prescribe more antibiotics as the day wears on. The rate is partly reset after lunch before it drifts up further through the afternoon, ending at around 20 per cent higher than when the day began. 15 It’s an effort to say no to patients who you feel probably don’t need antibiotics, and an effort to keep washing your hands. We’ve seen similar effects in BIT analysis, too, such as the changing probability that social workers will bring a child into care through the week. Decision fatigue, as psychologists call it, has very wide effects and is often far more powerful and pervasive than we realise.
Effective interventions often bring together all three elements of timeliness. The intervention is targeted before the behaviour has become entrenched; the intervention is aligned to a moment when it is likely to be most salient or when the existing behaviour is disrupted; and its design will help the person overcome their own time inconsistency –helping them to do what their future self would have wished.
Michael Luca’s work illustrated how the ratings changed the nature of the market in more subtle ways. It showed how, as the coverage level of yelp.com increased in given areas, it disproportionately drove the growth of small, independent restaurants, whereas large chains were largely unaffected. In retrospect, we can see why. Imagine you are choosing a restaurant for lunch tomorrow. Chances are you have a good idea about the kind of food and service you will get in a familiar chain like Pizza Hut, but you know much less about the small independent pizza places around the corner. Is it worth taking a chance on one of the small independents? If you don’t know anything much about them, maybe not. But if you could find out how others had found them –and that they liked it –you might try one of them out.
Philip Tetlock has documented how, very often, political and policy experts aren’t very good at getting it right. 3 In particular, experts who have strong views of the world, with clear-cut but rigid theories, tend to make predictions that turn out to be wrong. In contrast, experts who make more accurate predictions tend to have much messier views of the world. They change their minds when new evidence comes along. They’re often full of doubt, so they don’t make great pundits on TV. But they’re more likely to get it right, because the world is, after all, a complicated place.
by some estimates as many of 80 per cent of jobs are filled by word of mouth.
A growing body of work suggests that if you prompt people to think ahead about how, when and where they will do something they are much more likely actually to do it. For example, if you want to encourage someone to vote, it’s much more effective to prompt them to make a plan about when and how they will get to the polling booth than simply appealing to their civic duty
We sought to give jobseekers a stronger sense of progress with a short checklist of all the steps between that stage and getting a job, with many of the tasks being ticked off even in the first session.
many as half of all published results are subsequently shown to have been ‘false’.
We know that extended unemployment is deeply damaging, leading to economic ‘scarring’ in the form of lower earnings even when people do get back to work, a scarring that can mark entire generations. We also know that unemployment has big impacts on well-being that far exceed those that result from the loss of earnings
Keynes’s ‘animal spirits’. Even if your business seems all right, with money in the bank and enough orders coming in, if you sense that other businesses around you are in trouble and there is no help at hand, then you will hold back. You won’t take on that extra employee, or invest in new equipment, if you think other businesses are in trouble.
businesses’ decisions are based on mental processes that are far from perfect, and in times of recession and doubt, much of policy is really about moving this sentiment. It may seem strange to think about it this way, but often the billions of pounds spent on schemes from tax breaks to quantitative easing (the printing of money) is more about sentiment than direct effect. If we think it’s getting better, or that someone has a plausible programme that might work to boost growth, then this itself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, or at least one that will amplify the impact of the programme itself.
someone needs to make a final decision about which nudges are acceptable and which are not, and this should be someone other than the ‘nudgers’ themselves.
The clean-up of major oil spills counts as GDP growth, yet the depletion of the oil and the carbon it releases does not feature.
Psychologists have shown that most of us have a strong tendency to interpret the world through self-serving biases –i.e. we tend to take credit for things that go well, and blame others and the situation when things don’t. It seems that, to some extent, these biases help to keep us happy.
It is not for government to make these choices for people, or even to produce the citizens’ ‘trip adviser for life’. But governments –and potentially others –can help to generate such data, as the UK’s ONS has shown. They can, in the words of the 2010 Coalition Government, help find ‘… intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves’.
Better-informed consumers don’t just mean better functioning markets in the classical sense of lower prices or choosing lower fat desserts (see Chapter 7). It also implies the reshaping of consumer markets more deeply.
Those on the right choose to highlight the powerful role played by personal relationships, volunteering, freedom and control, and even organised religion (people who go to church are happier, though it’s the attendance rather than the religious belief that makes the difference). 43 In contrast, those on the left may choose to highlight the higher well-being returns to boosting income at lower income levels, the negative impacts of unemployment, and the role the state can play in reducing risk.
If you really want to achieve impact on a large scale, as psychologists have studied, it’s conversion not compliance that you’re after. For conversion, you need to persuade and convince, not force and insist.
‘Radical incrementalism’ is the idea that dramatic improvements can be achieved, and are more likely to be achieved, by systematically testing small variations in everything we do, rather than through dramatic leaps in the dark.
I hope that one of the things we’ll see emerging in the next couple of years is a more effective cross-national clearing house or platform that enables policymakers and practitioners from across the world to be better able to access and build the evidence on What Works. There is no shortage of opinions and even research, but patching together evidence is not a democratic process in the sense that evidence varies greatly in its quality, and that based on better and more robust methods should be accorded much more weight. Central to this platform will be a set of toolkits like that of the EEF we saw above (see Figure 44), but with an important extra column that shows the range of countries and places where the intervention was found to be effective (or not). A policymaker –or public service provider –can be much more confident about importing an intervention that has been replicated in five or six countries than one that has only been shown to work in one place alone.
We need to recognise our dangerous tendency to overconfidence and our presumption that what we do know is ‘right’. We need to follow in the footsteps of Archie Cochrane and Richard Feyman. We need to embrace doubt. We need to test, learn and adapt.
conference-goers fill up 68 per cent of their plates with the first three items they come across, regardless of whether the items are healthy fruit or a rich cooked breakfast.
a new ‘behavioural equilibrium’ is established that is reinforced by other people. A well-documented example of this phenomenon comes from interventions to encourage higher voter turnouts in the USA. Such interventions, such as prompting people to think about how, and at what time, they will go to the polling station, have been found not only to boost turnout in a coming election, but also in subsequent elections even without further intervention. Todd Rogers, at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, has likened the persistence of the voting effect to moving the person into a ‘behavioural rip-tide’. 9 The intervention not only changes the person’s behaviour directly, it also moves it into the flow of other influences. In this example, once you become an active voter in the US, you come on to the ‘radar’ of local party activists who are then likely to reach out to you in subsequent elections. But it is also that you start to think of yourself as a voter; that you now know where the polling station is and how to get there; and perhaps that you start to become slightly more interested in politics and elections.
let me put it more strongly: I think it is unethical for governments not to do trials. 14 Governments, public bodies and businesses regularly make changes to what they do. Sometimes these changes are very extensive, such as when welfare systems are reformed, school curricula are overhauled, or professional guidelines are changed. No doubt those behind the changes think they are for the best. But without systematic testing, this is often little more than an educated guess. To me, this preparedness to make a change affecting millions of people without testing it is potentially far more unacceptable than the alternative of running trials that affect only a small number of people before imposing the change on everyone.
Once a month or so, when our Houses of Parliament are otherwise empty, we should ask 100 to 300 randomly chosen members of the public to come and help us decide on some new aspect or detail of lifestyle policy, just like the questions listed above. They should have the argument presented, hear from those against, and be asked to give a view. At the same time, government departments wrestling with behavioural and lifestyle issues would ask to have their issue presented at one of the ‘people’s parliaments’. The conclusion would be advisory, not binding, but governments would be expected to publicly explain how they followed or ignored the results.
Heads of government and business were traditionally not much interested in the details of forms and procedures that their citizens and customers had to deal with. Turns out that’s a big mistake. However good your strategy or product, if the person the product or intervention is aimed at has to wade through a poorly designed form or process, they will probably give up and do something else. Your strategists will be left back at HQ saying, ‘What went wrong?’ Getting these design details right has proved fertile ground for behavioural scientists. Much of what such scientists do is familiar to the design professions and ethnographers who study how real people interact with products and services. By understanding how people actually use services and products –what they like and what they get frustrated with –designers can reshape the products and services until they feel easier and more intuitive to use. But behavioural scientists have added two extra elements into the mix. First, they bring in the systematic study of how people think about the world and how they decide, including the mental shortcuts that we all rely on to get through everyday life. This gives the behavioural scientist a more informed idea about what might work better, including sometimes identifying seemingly counter-intuitive alternatives to the current set-up. Second, behavioural science brings in the practice of systematic testing and trialling. The combination, mixed with a little design flair, can prove highly effective (as we saw in Chapters 3 to 6). Addressing these design challenges is about more than ‘nudges’. It is about applying behavioural insights to everything that we do, from how information is presented to how an incentive or regulation is structured.
children who are steered towards believing that a test result is a measure of their inherent ability (‘ good result: you’re a smart kid’) show less persistence and lower subsequent performance on a difficult task than children who are steered towards believing that a test result is a measure of their effort (good result: good effort). In Dweck’s words, the latter type of feedback creates a ‘growth mindset’, or a theory of mind that personal achievements come from effort, 8 leading the child to try harder and not give up in the face of personal challenge.
Having money worries seems to preoccupy a chunk of our minds, even if we are not aware of it. The effect size on IQ is roughly equivalent to having had no sleep the night before, but on an ongoing basis. This gives useful clues to how welfare systems might be adapted, not just by throwing more money at them, but by avoiding systems and processes that factor in this unseen cognitive load.
EAST. If you want to encourage a behaviour –in yourself or in others –make it easy, attractive, harness social influence, and choose a time when most receptive.
Barack Obama’s face was also on a wall. Obama Rooms are booths for making cell-phone calls, following something he once said about Estonia. (“I should have called the Estonians when we were setting up our health-care Web site.”)
She logged on with her own I.D. If she were to glance at any patient’s data, she explained, the access would be tagged to her name, and she would get a call inquiring why it was necessary. The system also scans for drug interactions, so if your otolaryngologist prescribes something that clashes with the pills your cardiologist told you to take, the computer will put up a red flag.
Siim Sikkut, Estonia’s current C.I.O., says. Today, in Estonia, the weekly e-residency application rate exceeds the birth rate. “We tried to make more babies, but it’s not that easy,” he explained.
Kaevats told me it irked him that so many Westerners saw his country as a tech haven. He thought they were missing the point. “This enthusiasm and optimism around technology is like a value of its own,” he complained. “This gadgetry that I’ve been ranting about? This is not important.” He threw up his hands, scattering ash. “It’s about the mind-set. It’s about the culture. It’s about the human relations—what it enables us to do.”
Estonian folklore includes a creature known as the kratt: an assembly of random objects that the Devil will bring to life for you, in exchange for a drop of blood offered at the conjunction of five roads. The Devil gives the kratt a soul, making it the slave of its creator.
“Each and every Estonian, even children, understands this character,” Kaevats said. His office now speaks of kratt instead of robots and algorithms, and has been using the word to define a new, important nuance in Estonian law. “Basically, a kratt is a robot with representative rights,” he explained. “The idea that an algorithm can buy and sell services on your behalf is a conceptual upgrade.” In the U.S., where we lack such a distinction, it’s a matter of dispute whether, for instance, Facebook is responsible for algorithmic sales to Russian forces of misinformation. #KrattLaw—Estonia’s digital shorthand for a new category of legal entity comprising A.I., algorithms, and robots—will make it possible to hold accountable whoever gave a drop of blood.
In Tallinn’s courtrooms, judges’ benches are fitted with two monitors, for consulting information during the proceedings, and case files are assembled according to the once-only principle. The police make reports directly into the system; forensic specialists at the scene or in the lab do likewise. Lawyers log on—as do judges, prison wardens, plaintiffs, and defendants, each through his or her portal. The Estonian courts used to be notoriously backlogged, but that is no longer the case.
“No one was able to say whether we should increase the number of courts or increase the number of judges,” Timo Mitt, a manager at Netgroup, which the government hired to build the architecture, told me. Digitizing both streamlined the process and helped identify points of delay. Instead of setting up prisoner transport to trial—fraught with security risks—Estonian courts can teleconference defendants into the courtroom from prison.
A tenet of the Estonian system is that an individual owns all information recorded about him or her. Every time a doctor (or a border guard, a police officer, a banker, or a minister) glances at any of Piperal’s secure data online, that look is recorded and reported. Peeping at another person’s secure data for no reason is a criminal offense. “In Estonia, we don’t have Big Brother; we have Little Brother,” a local told me. “You can tell him what to do and maybe also beat him up.”
“If everything is digital, and location-independent, you can run a borderless country,” Kotka said. In 2014, the government launched a digital “residency” program, which allows logged-in foreigners to partake of some Estonian services, such as banking, as if they were living in the country. Other measures encourage international startups to put down virtual roots; Estonia has the lowest business-tax rates in the European Union, and has become known for liberal regulations around tech research. It is legal to test Level 3 driverless cars (in which a human driver can take control) on all Estonian roads, and the country is planning ahead for Level 5 (cars that take off on their own). “We believe that innovation happens anyway,” Viljar Lubi, Estonia’s deputy secretary for economic development, says. “If we close ourselves off, the innovation happens somewhere else.”
I asked Kaevats what he saw when he looked at the U.S. Two things, he said. First, a technical mess. Data architecture was too centralized. Citizens didn’t control their own data; it was sold, instead, by brokers. Basic security was lax. “For example, I can tell you my I.D. number—I don’t fucking care,” he said. “You have a Social Security number, which is, like, a big secret.” He laughed. “This does not work!” The U.S. had backward notions of protection, he said, and the result was a bigger problem: a systemic loss of community and trust. “Snowden things and whatnot have done a lot of damage. But they have also proved that these fears are justified.
“To regain this trust takes quite a lot of time,” he went on. “There also needs to be a vision from the political side. It needs to be there always—a policy, not politics. But the politicians need to live it, because, in today’s world, everything will be public at some point.”
Finding the business interests of the rich and powerful—a hefty field of journalism in the United States—takes a moment’s research, because every business connection or investment captured in any record in Estonia becomes searchable public information. (An online tool even lets citizens map webs of connection, follow-the-money style.) Traffic stops are illegal in the absence of a moving violation, because officers acquire records from a license-plate scan. Polling-place intimidation is a non-issue if people can vote—and then change their votes, up to the deadline—at home, online. And heat is taken off immigration because, in a borderless society, a resident need not even have visited Estonia in order to work and pay taxes under its dominion.
Data aren’t centrally held, thus reducing the chance of Equifax-level breaches. Instead, the government’s data platform, X-Road, links individual servers through end-to-end encrypted pathways, letting information live locally. Your dentist’s practice holds its own data; so does your high school and your bank. When a user requests a piece of information, it is delivered like a boat crossing a canal via locks.
Although X-Road is a government platform, it has become, owing to its ubiquity, the network that many major private firms build on, too. Finland, Estonia’s neighbor to the north, recently began using X-Road, which means that certain data—for instance, prescriptions that you’re able to pick up at a local pharmacy—can be linked between the nations. It is easy to imagine a novel internationalism taking shape in this form.
It struck me then how long it had been since anyone in America had spoken of society-building of any kind. It was as if, in the nineties, Estonia and the U.S. had approached a fork in the road to a digital future, and the U.S. had taken one path—personalization, anonymity, information privatization, and competitive efficiency—while Estonia had taken the other. Two decades on, these roads have led to distinct places, not just in digital culture but in public life as well.
Today, the old fatuities of the nation-state are showing signs of crisis. Formerly imperialist powers have withered into nationalism (as in Brexit) and separatism (Scotland, Catalonia). New powers, such as the Islamic State, have redefined nationhood by ideological acculturation. It is possible to imagine a future in which nationality is determined not so much by where you live as by what you log on to.
Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work.
Jo Freeman aka Joreen
Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a structureless group. Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable.
Because elites are informal does not mean they are invisible. At any small group meeting anyone with a sharp eye and an acute ear can tell who is influencing whom. The members of a friendship group will relate more to each other than to other people. They listen more attentively, and interrupt less; they repeat each other’s points and give in amiably; they tend to ignore or grapple with the “outs” whose approval is not necessary for making a decision.
Diffusion of information to everyone as frequently as possible. Information is power. Access to information enhances one’s power. When an informal network spreads new ideas and information among themselves outside the group, they are already engaged in the process of forming an opinion – without the group participating. The more one knows about how things work and what is happening, the more politically effective one can be.
because there are no official spokespeople nor any decision-making body that the press can query when it wants to know the movement’s position on a subject, these women are perceived as the spokespeople. Thus, whether they want to or not, whether the movement likes it or not, women of public note are put in the role of spokespeople by default. This is one main source of the ire that is often felt toward the women who are labeled “stars.” Because they were not selected by the women in the movement to represent the movement’s views, they are resented when the press presumes that they speak for the movement. But as long as the movement does not select its own spokeswomen, such women will be placed in that role by the press and the public, regardless of their own desires.
structurelessness becomes a way of masking power, and within the women’s movement is usually most strongly advocated by those who are the most powerful (whether they are conscious of their power or not). As long as the structure of the group is informal, the rules of how decisions are made are known only to a few and awareness of power is limited to those who know the rules. Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware.
For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized. This is not to say that formalization of a structure of a group will destroy the informal structure. It usually doesn’t. But it does hinder the informal structure from having predominant control and make available some means of attacking it if the people involved are not at least responsible to the needs of the group at large. “Structurelessness” is organizationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group, only whether or not to have a formally structured one.
If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found.
Rotation of tasks among individuals. Responsibilities which are held too long by one person, formally or informally, come to be seen as that person’s “property” and are not easily relinquished or controlled by the group. Conversely, if tasks are rotated too frequently the individual does not have time to learn her job well and acquire the sense of satisfaction of doing a good job.
Distribution of authority among as many people as is reasonably possible. This prevents monopoly of power and requires those in positions of authority to consult with many others in the process of exercising it. It also gives many people the opportunity to have responsibility for specific tasks and thereby to learn different skills.
Geoffrey C. Bowker & Susan Leigh StarBuy on Amazon
Information scientists work every day on the design, delegation, and choice of classification systems and standards, yet few see them as artifacts embodying moral and aesthetic choices that in turn craft people’s identities, aspirations, and dignity.
- A “standard” is any set of agreed-upon rules for the production of (textual or material) objects. 2. A standard spans more than one community of practice (or site of activity). It has temporal reach as well in that it persists over time. 3. Standards are deployed in making things work together over distance and heterogeneous metrics.
- There is no natural law that the best standard shall win—QWERTY, Lotus 123, DOS, and VHS are often cited as examples in this context. The standards that do win may do so for a variety of other reasons: they build on an installed base, they had better marketing at the outset, or they were used by a community of gatekeepers who favored their use. Sometimes standards win due to an outright conspiracy, as in the case of the gas refrigerator documented by Cowan (1985). 6. Standards have significant inertia and can be very difficult and expensive to change.
these dimensions of standards are in some sense idealized. They embody goals of practice and production that are never perfectly realized, like Plato’s triangles. The process of building to a standardized code, for example, usually includes a face-to-face negotiation between builder(s) and inspector(s), which itself includes a history of relations between those people. Small deviations are routinely overlooked, unless the inspector is making a political point. The idiom “good enough for government use” embodies the common-sense accommodations of the slip between the ideal standard and the contingencies of practice.
A definition of infrastructure
- Embeddedness. Infrastructure is sunk into, inside of, other structures, social arrangements, and technologies,
- Transparency. Infrastructure is transparent to use in the sense that it does not have to be reinvented each time or assembled for each task, but invisibly supports those tasks.
- Reach or scope. This may be either spatial or temporal—infrastructure has reach beyond a single event or one-site practice;
- Learned as part of membership. The taken-for-grantedness of artifacts and organizational arrangements is a sine qua non of membership in a community of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991, Star 1996). Strangers and outsiders encounter infrastructure as a target object to be learned about. New participants acquire a naturalized familiarity with its objects as they become members.
- Links with conventions of practice. Infrastructure both shapes and is shaped by the conventions of a community of practice; for example, the ways that cycles of day-night work are affected by and affect electrical power rates and needs. Generations of typists have learned the QWERTY keyboard; its limitations are inherited by the computer keyboard and thence by the design of today’s computer furniture (Becker 1982).
- Embodiment of standards. Modified by scope and often by conflicting conventions, infrastructure takes on transparency by plugging into other infrastructures and tools in a standardized fashion.
- Built on an installed base. Infrastructure does not grow de novo; it wrestles with the inertia of the installed base and inherits strengths and limitations from that base. Optical fibers run along old railroad lines, new systems are designed for backward compatibility; and failing to account for these constraints may be fatal or distorting to new development processes (Monteiro and Hanseth 1996).
- Becomes visible upon breakdown. The normally invisible quality of working infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks: the server is down, the bridge washes out, there is a power blackout. Even when there are backup mechanisms or procedures, their existence further highlights the now visible infrastructure.
- Is fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally. Because infrastructure is big, layered, and complex, and because it means different things locally, it is never changed from above. Changes take time and negotiation, and adjustment with other aspects of the systems involved.
Source: Star and Rohleder 1996.
Andrea Louise CampbellBuy on Amazon
Even if she had had private health insurance, ultimately she would have needed to enroll in Medicaid: it’s the only realistic source—public or private—for the long-term services she continues to need as a disabled person. Because Medicaid is a program for the poor, Marcella and Dave had to spend down their assets to qualify; they now live on a near-poverty income. And to stay eligible, they will have to remain under these strictures, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Just over half of Americans—55 percent—get their health insurance through their employer, while 30 percent are covered by a public program such as Medicare or Medicaid; 16 percent are uninsured.
The couple didn’t think of themselves as being in a precarious situation, but their modest wages, limited access to needed education and training programs, and lack of employer-provided benefits and comprehensive health insurance left them vulnerable. And, as with many Americans living with insecurity, a simple misstep, let alone a tragedy, would spell financial disaster.
while GDP grew 18 percent from 2000 to 2011, median income for working-age households fell by 12 percent. The reason? Most economic growth during this period accrued not to ordinary workers but to the top 1 percent of earners, who absorbed 65 percent of the nation’s income growth between 2002 and 2007.17
The opportunity gap has widened. Since 1980, the United States has experienced what MIT economist David Autor calls a “polarization” of skills and wages. Employment growth exhibits a U-shaped pattern, with the greatest growth among both high-skill occupations at one end of the spectrum and low-skill service jobs at the other. At the same time, the greatest wage increases have been concentrated at the high end. 23 Unequal access to education and training programs makes it very hard for individuals to upgrade their skills and to enhance their financial prospects.
The United States is just about the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t guarantee health insurance for its citizens (Belarus and the former Balkan states are the other exceptions).
Bankruptcies tend to have multiple causes, so it is difficult to measure precisely the effect of medical debt. 34 But we do know that this pattern of events—illness, job loss, insurance loss, bankruptcy—is uniquely American. 35 In virtually all other economically advanced nations, citizens have health insurance regardless of their employment situation. The Obama administration health reform, the Affordable Care Act, will cut the number of uninsured and underinsured and will reduce some—but not all—disparities in health insurance coverage by age, income, and education, as chapter 6 explains. In other countries, however, these differences in insurance coverage across subgroups do not exist. People have health coverage by virtue of their citizenship.
Moreover, because Dave is employed, he and Marcella would be in a particular version of the program called “Share of Cost” Medi-Cal. It works this way: as a family of three with one disabled member, they are allowed to keep $ 2,100 of Dave’s $ 3,250 monthly earnings to live on. The rest of Dave’s earnings, $ 1,150, would go to Medi-Cal as the family’s share of cost. That is, any month in which Marcella incurred medical expenses, she and Dave must pay the first $ 1,150. To our surprise, if Dave earned more money, the extra amount would also go to Medi-Cal: the cost sharing is a 100 percent tax on Dave’s earnings. I figured out later that the $ 2,100 my brother and sister-in-law are to live on puts them at 133 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three. Essentially, the way they meet the income test is for Medi-Cal to skim off Dave’s income until they are in fact poor. Brian noted that they are “lucky” that they are allowed to retain that much income; if Marcella weren’t disabled, the amount they’d be allowed to retain would be even lower than $ 2,100. And this is how things will be indefinitely. In order to get poor people’s health insurance, Dave and Marcella must stay poor, forever.
He and Marcella struggled to make ends meet on that near-poverty income. And then much later, at the time I was writing this book, we discovered that he probably didn’t need to reduce his pay; he and Marcella were probably not subject to a Share of Cost requirement even at Dave’s pre-accident income, a revelation to which I will return. But we didn’t know that for two years.
the asset “test” is an asset limit. Their house and one vehicle are exempt. Beyond those two items, they can possess only $ 3,150 in assets, total. They have to liquidate everything else4 and must put the resulting cash only into the house and the one vehicle. They can’t use the money to pay household bills, credit card bills, or Marcella’s student loans. They will have to save every receipt to prove how the money was spent.
In sum, they are barred from doing many of the things middle-class families are constantly advised to do: Save for retirement. Save for emergencies. Take advantage of tax-free college savings plans. Just $ 3,150 in total assets—that’s it.
In the early days, we had so many questions about Marcella’s eligibility for various programs. Medicare? No. Medi-Cal? Yes. SSDI? No. SSI? Yes. IHSS—what’s that? I thought Dave’s head would explode. It was impossible for any single person, even nondisabled, to navigate the entire, immensely complicated system alone. Marcella’s sister and sister-in-law divvied up the programs, got permission to act as her proxy, and began figuring everything out.
Just look at the calculators and figure it out, they advised. But I can’t—not with any certainty, to my enormous frustration. So much for helping my brother and sister-in-law navigate the system. Medi-Cal is a collection of over one hundred programs, each with its own income methodology and rules. A person familiar with Medi-Cal likened the program to the Winchester Mystery House, the San Jose mansion constructed continually over four decades by the odd widow of the Winchester rifle fortune: there is no master plan. “All the ‘rooms’ added on over the years makes it very difficult to see which rules apply to which groups and to follow them all the way through,” this observer told me. And even if Dave and Marcella could retain a bit more income to live on, they are still subject to the asset limit and all of Medi-Cal’s other strictures. They are still trapped in an eccentric’s mansion, where the stairways lead to ceilings and the doors open onto walls.
Marcella’s and Logan’s ICU stays up to that point: $ 474,000 for Marcella, $ 111,000 for Logan. The baby spent another week in the NICU, while Marcella was in the Mercy ICU for three more weeks, followed by the three-month rehabilitation hospital stay. With private insurance, even if they didn’t hit annual or lifetime caps, Marcella and Dave may well have had a 20 percent coinsurance requirement, which would have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Either way, they would have had to have declared bankruptcy.
Between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five, two-thirds of Americans will live in a household that receives food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or other cash welfare. 2 In 2012, one in seven Americans received food stamps, including one in four children. Medicaid funds 40 percent of all births in the United States. 3 Social assistance programs aren’t marginal—they’re mainstream.
Every year, one in seven earners experiences a drop in earnings of 50 percent or more, while one in five experiences a 25 percent drop. 6 During these troughs, individuals and families may fall into social assistance eligibility. The consensus among most researchers is that income volatility has increased over time, particularly for family earnings.
Despite their neediness, many people who are eligible for means-tested programs don’t enroll. “Take-up” rates are very low. Over 60 percent of American children who lack health insurance are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but aren’t enrolled. 15 Only 72 percent of those eligible for food stamps are enrolled (and only 34 percent of eligible senior citizens are). Complicated application procedures and confusing eligibility criteria are one barrier: many only seek information about these programs and fight their way in when they’re truly desperate, like Dave and Marcella. Outreach efforts are often modest in scope (and vary by state and by program). And the enduring stigma surrounding means-tested programs reduces take-up rates as well.
In 2011, 55.7 million people were enrolled in Medicaid, up from 23 million in 1990 and 34.5 million in 2000; over 70 million, or one in five Americans, were enrolled for at least one month during 2011.26
in 2013 the Republican-controlled House led efforts to reduce SNAP further and de-couple it from the farm bill, where food stamps had long coexisted with agricultural subsidies, backed by a bipartisan coalition of rural agricultural and urban interests.
In 2009, just two-thirds of workers aged eighteen to sixty-four had employer-provided health insurance; just half such workers had an employer that sponsored a retirement plan. 51 Furthermore, access to employer-provided benefits is highly skewed by income. Such benefits are most widely available to the middle class and especially the affluent in higher-paid jobs. If you sort US firms by the average wage they pay, most firms in the top quartile offer retirement benefits and paid sick leave, compared with only one-third of the firms in the bottom quartile.
I would need to pay for personal care assistants out of pocket both before and after the age of 65. Twelve hours of care per day, at $ 20 per hour, would total $ 87,600 per year. Even at $ 12 per hour—the lowest rate I could find in Massachusetts—the annual bill would come to $ 52,560. And the bill could be much higher: a bioethics professor in New York whose husband is paralyzed from the shoulders down spends nearly $ 250,000 per year for his twenty-four-hour-per-day personal care.
How you are treated in times of need and what kinds of help you can expect to receive depend almost entirely on your status as a worker—and not only whether you are employed but for how long and for which employer.
American means-tested programs aren’t principally about pulling people out of poverty. Instead, they’re intended to provide a safety net that is absolutely minimal (given its taxpayer funding), goes to the “deserving” rather than the undeserving, and doesn’t deter holding a job. To achieve these goals, means-tested programs are tightly targeted on those at the very bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, with low income and asset ceilings. Tight targeting addresses the main fear, which has always been that programs for the poor deter working. Thus from its inception, American social assistance was organized around the principle of “less eligibility” that originated in the British poor laws of the nineteenth century. 2 The idea back then was to deter paupers from work-houses by making conditions there worse than the worst job on the outside. In contemporary America, this idea persists: means-tested programs have to remain inferior to the alternative—the worst jobs at the worst wages. If benefits were easy to get, stigma free, and generous, it would be too hard to find people willing to take bottom-ofthe-barrel jobs. There would be pressure on low-wage employers to improve pay and benefits. Instead, policy makers try to make means-tested programs as miserable as possible to discourage would-be applicants, minimize enrollment, and incentivize work in low-level jobs. And as conditions in the low-end job market have deteriorated over time, with shrinking real wages, an increase in part-time work, and the near disappearance of employer-provided benefits, means-tested programs have gotten worse in tandem. The problem is that narrow targeting and fear of replacing work have perverse consequences: the programs’ corresponding design features also prevent people from leaving poverty. The extreme eligibility criteria that tight targeting requires—the low income and asset ceilings—mean that as people leave assistance for work, their benefits first diminish and then disappear altogether. The cost of working is steep indeed, as the recipient loses cash assistance, housing, food assistance, child care subsidy, and medical insurance, one after another. And there’s little on the outside to replace these lost benefits.
Consider Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: in no state do welfare benefits come close to lifting recipient families out of poverty. In the most generous TANF state, New York, the maximum benefit is less than half the federal poverty level. In the least generous state, Mississippi, the maximum TANF benefit is 11 percent of the poverty level. For a family of three, that’s $ 2,040 for a year—a little more than the annual household income in Nigeria.
In New York City, where 5,000 to 6,000 Housing Authority apartments become available each year, it would take thirty-eight years to get through the quarter-million-household waiting list.
Most means-tested programs in most states have an asset test, which requires that an applicant not only be cash poor but also possess very minimal assets to qualify for assistance. Most of these asset test amounts haven’t been raised in years, making the poor even worse off. As the Suze Ormans and Dave Ramseys of the world attest, the first step to financial stability is having an emergency fund, followed by saving for other needs: your next car, retirement, college. But most social assistance programs prohibit such savings, forcing the poor to stay poor. Without savings, not only can you not get ahead, but you can easily fall further behind.
This asset policy makes more sense when you consider its real purpose: not poverty reduction, but making sure that only the neediest and most deserving enroll in these assistance programs. The asset limits are intended to ensure that no one with a fat bank account is receiving aid. They are part of the effort to tightly target these programs, in other words. But once people are in these programs, asset limits become a straitjacket. 12 It’s very expensive to be poor,
Some states have made changes to their asset rules. Twenty-four have eliminated their asset tests for Medicaid, partly for administrative simplicity and cost savings: it’s cheaper simply to cover poor people than to hound them about their assets and then deny care. 15 Forty-seven states have eliminated their asset test for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And in order to promote personal savings and greater financial security, President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget proposed raising asset tests for federally funded means-tested programs such as TANF, food stamps, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to a minimum of $ 10,000. But in the polarized Congress this proposal went nowhere, and it wouldn’t have helped the many poor people in state programs that still have asset tests. The Affordable Care Act eliminates the Medicaid asset test for those newly eligible for Medicaid, but this doesn’t help Dave and Marcella, who are still under the state asset test because of her being in a previously eligible group, the disabled. If only California would follow the lead of half the states and lift its Medi-Cal asset test, it would make a huge difference in their lives.
Medicaid and CHIP, have an eligibility cliff: earn one more dollar in income, and you lose eligibility for public health insurance altogether. This is the essence of the “means test” imposed by all social assistance programs: as your means rise, you fail the test. These benefit phaseouts and falloffs are essentially huge marginal taxes on those exiting social assistance for work. They provide a powerful disincentive, because the effective cost of working is so very high.
these phaseouts, cliffs, and huge marginal tax rates aren’t failures of means-tested programs alone. Recipients are trapped in poverty also because of failings at the boundaries between social assistance, other social supports, and jobs. If jobs or other social programs reliably provided health insurance or child care, transitions out of social assistance wouldn’t impose such steep costs to the affected individuals. The problem is that on one side, we try diligently to minimize assistance programs by keeping their scope limited and clearly bounded. But this tight bounding means that people often exit means-tested programs—and do so abruptly—when they are still poor. On the other side, we have social programs and jobs that fail to provide the working poor with adequate wages or needed protections. If only one or the other existed, people would exit social assistance without the steep costs described here. But because both poor wages and meager protections exist together, leaving social assistance often means falling into a chasm.
why get married? EITC, CHIP, and sometimes Medicaid benefits extend relatively far up the income ladder. However, when two modest-income people marry, their combined incomes can push them out of eligibility, and their increased taxes and lost benefits combine for the high effective marginal tax rates described above. The Medicaid and CHIP health insurance benefits are particularly valuable, since many low-and moderate-income people have no other means of getting health coverage. So why marry? As economist Eugene Steuerle puts it, “Not getting married is the major tax shelter for low-and moderate-income households with children.” 20
In the perverse world of means-tested programs, work doesn’t pay.
Universal policies recognize that nearly everyone, not just the poor, needs help with the big-ticket items in life. They give support to all with these needs, providing considerable financial relief to the middle class while helping lower-income people in a stigma-free way. In addition, they make it easier to leave poverty, because they don’t have the benefit cliffs and phaseouts that means-tested programs do. Additional areas in which such a program design might be used include universal child care and preschool, universal paid family leave, and universal health insurance. To this list I would add a social insurance program for long-term care so that the disabled of any age don’t have to impoverish themselves to get assistance.
In a number of other states, they’d be allowed to save for retirement, and Marcella wouldn’t have had to liquidate her 401( k) savings to qualify for public health insurance. Indeed, twenty-four states use no asset test for Medicaid. In these states, Marcella and Dave could do it all: save for retirement, college, and emergencies, and Dave could drive a safe car to work. But not in California, where they happen to live. The experience of the poor in means-tested programs varies tremendously across states.
States have always played an important role in social assistance. 3 Before the Great Depression and World War II, which greatly expanded the size and role of the federal government, state and local governments collected far more tax revenue and were responsible for more functions than the government in Washington, DC. Indeed, a number of states had workers’ compensation programs, old-age pensions, and mothers’ pensions (which supported poor single mothers with children at home) long before the New Deal instituted programs for the aged, blind, poor, and unemployed. Because these earlier programs were entirely state run, states had a great deal of discretion over eligibility and benefits, and were loath to give up these powers to the federal government. In particular, southern states used the differential application of assistance programs to reinforce an economic system based on black agricultural labor. For example, mothers’ pensions weren’t available in counties with the highest concentrations of African Americans in order to maximize the number of available workers.
As hard-hit as the South was by the Depression—many of its states had to scale back their social assistance programs greatly—federal provision of Unemployment Insurance or mothers’ pensions posed a profound threat. These funds would provide a stream of monetary aid to black agricultural workers and domestics outside the control of the white planter elite, thereby threatening the underlying racial and class structure of the southern economy and society. 5 Southern congressmen used their dominance of key congressional committees to maintain the racial order and to reinforce state sovereignty and control. The social insurance programs of the Social Security Act of 1935—Old Age Insurance (what we think of today as “Social Security”) and Unemployment Insurance—initially covered only workers in “commerce and industry,” thus excluding occupations where African Americans were concentrated, such as farm laborers and domestics. 6 These racially discriminatory effects gradually diminished as more occupations were brought into the system. By the 1970s, Social Security in particular became a virtually “universal” program for which most retired workers were eligible, one that helped alleviate poverty in old age among the majority of income and ethnic/ racial groups.
the Social Security Act also contained two social assistance programs: Old Age Assistance (cash payments for the impoverished elderly) and Aid to Dependent Children (ADC, later AFDC and then replaced by TANF—that is, cash “welfare” payments to poor families with children, the successor to mothers’ pensions). Unlike Old Age Insurance, Old Age Assistance and ADC were not purely federal programs, at the insistence of southern congressmen. Instead, the federal government would pay a portion of program costs, but states would retain operational control and set eligibility criteria and benefit levels. These representatives further insisted that a provision that ADC payments provide “a reasonable subsistence compatible with decency and health” be stripped from the legislation. 7 Although Old Age Assistance was eventually federalized as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in 1972, the hybrid federal-state design of ADC persisted. The phenomena that we observe today—state discretion over social assistance, widely varying program parameters, and the failure of many social assistance programs to meet underlying needs—hark back to this founding era and the legacy of racial politics.
When the nation’s public health insurance programs were created in 1965, the same dichotomies between insurance and assistance and between federal and joint federal-state responsibility were adopted. Medicare, for senior citizens, would be a federal-level social insurance program with nationally uniform eligibility criteria and benefits. In contrast, Medicaid, for the poor, would adopt AFDC’s hybrid federal-state structure: the federal government would pay part of the cost and stipulate minimum eligibility criteria and benefits, but states could determine the scope of benefits and eligible populations beyond those minima as well as set provider reimbursement levels (which ultimately affected recipients’ access to health care). 8 Program funding differed as well. Medicare financing came entirely from federal and recipient sources: a payroll tax for Part A hospital insurance, and general federal tax revenues and monthly premiums for Part B supplemental medical insurance. In contrast, states were on the hook for part of Medicaid’s financing, which they shared with the federal government. That is, states had to spend their own dollars in order to receive federal matching money. Despite a matching formula that provided a greater federal contribution in poorer states, the robustness of the program would nonetheless come to depend on each state’s fiscal capacity. To this day, means-tested social assistance programs bear the marks of their birth in the crucible of American racial politics and states’ rights. 9 For our purposes, what matters is that the states, both then and now, play a central role in these programs. Today, state fiscal capacity and to a lesser extent ideology are what shape social assistance provision. But the result is the same: vast interstate differences in policies and outcomes.
Southern states adopted Medicaid slowly, and Arizona waited until 1982. Eligibility varies dramatically as well, meaning that an individual at a given income or asset level qualifies for a program in one state but not another. And what counts as income and assets differs too. Moreover, the size and scope of benefits vary dramatically, from the size of monthly checks in the cash programs to the scope of covered medical benefits in Medicaid. Take-up rates—the proportions of eligible people actually enrolled in each program—also vary across states. The result of all these differences is considerable variation in adequacy: in the proportion of poor people who actually receive benefits and in the ability of those benefits to meet basic human needs.
Forty years ago, four in five poor children received welfare; now four in five poor children do not.
There is also considerable variation in the size of TANF benefits (fig. 5.2). Among the lower forty-eight states, the maximum monthly TANF cash benefit in July 2011 for a family of three varied from $ 788 in New York, $ 714 in California, and $ 640 in Vermont to just $ 185 in Tennessee and $ 170 in Mississippi. 11 In twenty-two states, the maximum benefit provided an income less than one-fourth of the poverty line; in a few states at the bottom, the most a recipient could get from TANF was barely over 10 percent of the poverty line. Per person, that’s $ 2 per day—the World Bank’s definition of poverty in developing countries.
TANF rules and benefits differ widely across states, even across near neighbors. A stepparent’s income is included in the income test in Iowa but not in Kansas; a grandparent’s income is included in New Hampshire but not in Vermont. A family with $ 2,000 in assets would be eligible for TANF in Oregon but not in Washington. Idaho requires applicants to be engaged in a job search to receive benefits, while Montana does not. In Mississippi, the highest sanction for failing to comply with the work requirement is total loss of benefits and permanent ineligibility for TANF, while in Arkansas the case is merely closed until the family is in compliance for two weeks. A family’s experience depends entirely on the state in which it happens to live.
Twenty-four states have no asset test for Medicaid;
One reason for such wide variation in eligibility and benefits is that Medicaid is a very expensive program to run, and poorer states can afford less. States split the cost with the federal government; the feds provide more funding to the poorer states, as measured by per capita income. A poor state receives $ 2.85 in federal funds for every dollar it spends of its own funds, while richer states only receive $ 1.00.30 But getting the federal match still means spending a state dollar, which poor states are less likely to have. 31 The inverse matching formula is meant to incentivize states to enroll more of their low-income groups in Medicaid. But in reality, poorer states often can’t afford to be more generous, even with the greater federal match. The result is that even for health insurance, the experience of the poor varies dramatically across states and across time with states’ fluctuating fiscal circumstances.
The working parent of a Medicaid-eligible child in Arkansas can get Medicaid for herself only if her income is less than 16 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s Nigeria-level income), while in Wisconsin she can get Medicaid if her income is up to 200 percent of the poverty line (that’s one-third of American households). An adult Medicaid recipient can get eyeglasses in Texas but not in Oklahoma; Tennessee provides one pair of glasses after cataract surgery, while in Utah the only Medicaid adults who can get eyeglasses are pregnant women. In a Massachusetts Medicaid family, a child can get a filling in any tooth, but his mom can get a filling only in her twelve front teeth, not in her molars. Between 2010 and 2012, she would have been out of luck entirely, because state budget cuts eliminated most adult dental benefits altogether. 33 And on and absurdly on. As with TANF, how you fare is an accident of time and place.
CHIP provides health insurance for children whose families lack coverage but whose incomes are too high for Medicaid. It is funded jointly by the federal and state governments (using the same matching rate as Medicaid, plus a 15 percent sweetener to encourage state participation), but states determine eligibility and other program parameters. By 2012, nearly all states—forty-seven—had eliminated their asset test for CHIP, 34 but they still set income thresholds, with the income cutoff for eligibility varying from just 160 percent of the federal poverty level in North Dakota to 400 percent in New York.
Thirty-eight states have a waiting period, a length of time a child is required to be uninsured before allowed to enroll in CHIP, which varies from one to twelve months. 37 States impose waiting periods because they fear that parents will drop employer-provided insurance to enroll their children in CHIP. There is little evidence that parents engage in such behavior, however.
SNAP may be federal, but it’s local and state social workers who inform people about their eligibility and sign them up—or not. In 2006, 67 percent of those eligible for food stamps participated in the program, but the participation rate varied from 98 percent in Missouri to just 50 percent in California
if states responded to need—then more generous programs and more spending would occur where and when poverty is greater. In reality, the exact opposite patterns emerge. Poor states do the least to help their poor residents, not the most. And during economic downturns, states often reduce rather than increase spending on means-tested programs, just when the need is greatest. Across states, a negative relationship exists between need and social assistance provision that undercuts the responsiveness argument. Poor states spend less (as do conservative states).
during the Great Recession that began in 2007, Arizona not only closed off CHIP enrollment to new children but also reduced the time limit for TANF from sixty months to thirty-six. Massachusetts cut adult dental care in its Medicaid program, as noted earlier. The State of Washington reduced cash grants in its Disability Lifeline program for the physically and mentally disabled. Pennsylvania reduced its state SSI supplement. Mississippi slashed its mental health budget. South Carolina reduced Medicaid hospital payments by 7 percent and physicians’ reimbursements by 10 percent. 62 The list of social assistance cuts goes on and on. 63 Such reductions reinforce downturns, making recessions even worse, whereas policy responsiveness would dictate greater, countercyclical spending to meet increased need.
Many state policy makers think the poor have a choice, and so they refuse to offer generous social assistance benefits for fear of becoming a “welfare magnet.” While empirical examinations of the welfare magnet phenomenon are inconclusive, what matters is that state lawmakers think the effect exists, and make policy accordingly. 75 But in fact, for many the choice of location is an illusion. An important study of poor single mothers found that while the generosity of welfare benefits did influence state residential choice somewhat, many move back to their home state, where their family network and connections are.
most Americans will eventually be eligible for Medicare, a federal program. If some of them are in poorer health by the time they reach the age of sixty-five because they were uninsured as adults due to state policy (such as narrow Medicaid eligibility), then the national program is worse off: those people will end up being more costly than healthier individuals from a state that provides more expansive social assistance. Beyond these pragmatic matters is the fact that the national government is supposed to promote “the general welfare.” Dramatic cross-state differences in public policy arguably conflict with this tenet of American citizenship.
A greater federal role is evidenced in CHIP as well. The program has a higher federal match than Medicaid does, to encourage states to cover as many low-income children as possible. Furthermore, when it was reauthorized in 2009, funding was increased substantially by raising the federal tobacco tax. The reauthorization also included provisions intended to maximize enrollment: states must use their allotted CHIP funds within a certain period or lose them, and they receive annual performance bonuses for exceeding their enrollment targets.
Some groups are exempted from the individual mandate to have insurance: those whose incomes fall below the tax-filing threshold; Native Americans; incarcerated individuals; and those with financial hardship. Illegal immigrants are both exempted from the mandate and prohibited from buying insurance on an exchange, even with their own money. Most significantly, millions more will receive no assistance for health insurance coverage, as they are ineligible for either Medicaid or subsidies to buy private insurance on the exchanges. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2012 that the Medicaid expansion is optional for states, and as a result about half the states—home to more than half the nation’s uninsured—initially announced they would not broaden Medicaid eligibility.
“In states that do not expand Medicaid, some of the neediest people will not get coverage. But people who are just above the poverty line or in the middle class can get subsidized coverage. People will be denied assistance because they don’t make enough money. Trying to explain that will be a nightmare.”
As written by Congress, the ACA states that people who have access to “affordable” insurance through their employer cannot get subsidies to buy health insurance on the exchanges instead (the intent was to prevent people from leaving employer-provided coverage for the exchanges). The ACA defines “affordable” coverage as costing no more than 9.5 percent of family income. But the IRS ruling tied “affordability” to the cost of health coverage for an individual worker, typically around $ 5,600, not the cost of family coverage, which costs about three times as much, around $ 15,700. Therefore, if an employer is unwilling to pay a portion of family premiums, some family members may remain uninsured, unable to afford the full premium on their own and ineligible for the subsidies.
There’s one thing Dave could do to get out from under Marcella’s Medi-Cal restrictions: divorce her. This would separate Marcella and Dave’s income and assets. Only Marcella would then be forced into impoverishment; Dave could keep his half of the assets. And he and Logan would be free to live on as much income as Dave could make, to accept help from family members, to establish a 529 college fund, to have emergency money put away, to save for Dave’s retirement. In other words, they could go back to their middle-class life. And unattached to a spouse, Marcella would be eligible for means-tested programs without the “deeming rules” that count a spouse’s income and assets. Such “Medicaid divorces” are common among the elderly. When one member of a couple becomes disabled and needs to move to a nursing home, the couple divorces to separate their assets. Then the disabled former partner “spends down” his or her assets on nursing home fees until the state’s asset limit is reached, and then goes on Medicaid. In this manner, some assets for the spouse remaining in the community are protected.
At the age of sixty-five, the likelihood of needing home health care at some point in one’s remaining years is 72 percent; the likelihood of needing nursing home care is 49 percent. 33 As disability law expert Sam Bagenstos notes, “If we live long enough, we’re all going to have disabilities. That’s one of the things about the disability community. We’re all going to be a part of it, if we’re lucky.” 34 And yet in the United States, the only way for us to get public help with these expensive needs is to spend down our assets to the poverty level and Medicaid eligibility.
While many social protections are conferred on a near-universal basis in other rich democracies, in the United States more generous benefits are given to groups deemed deserving, such as retired workers. Those perceived as less deserving, such as the non-working poor, are seemingly held responsible for their plights and given only meager help. As Lynch says, the welfare policies of western Europe and Canada reflect “the principle of inclusion with elements of universal entitlement based on need and adequacy,” while the American welfare state instead “prioritizes personal responsibility, help for the deserving only, and the principle of less eligibility,” thereby making public benefits less desirable than work, as we saw in chapter 4. For the poor in America, the resulting orientation of the government is less about assistance than about skepticism, begrudging and meager help, concern about fraud, and even punishment. 41 These policies reflect public attitudes. As disability activist Dennis Heaphy says, “Americans have a punitive view of poverty and who is poor and why they are poor.” 42 Many are very concerned that some people might get more than they deserve. Heaphy adds, “We live in a mind-set of scarcity, and everyone is afraid that someone is getting away with something or taking away from them.” In the policy regime that arises from these attitudes, social workers function as gatekeepers rather than facilitators, and scarce dollars are devoted to sorting the deserving from the undeserving. The inefficiency of these practices is demonstrated by the decision of many states to simply drop the Medicaid asset test rather than try to ferret out the tiny level of resources most Medicaid applicants have.
Incredibly, the United States is one of only four nations—out of 173 for which data are available—that doesn’t offer paid maternity or parental leave for women (the other three are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland). 44 There is no national paid leave for family caregiving, either—just twelve weeks of unpaid leave for which only half are eligible and most can’t afford to take. 45 Also unlike many other advanced-economy countries, there is no universal public day care or preschool: only 58 percent of American three-to five-year-olds attend preschool, compared with 90 to 100 percent in much of Europe.
Fidelity Investments has calculated that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2011 with an average life span (20 more years for the wife, 17 for the husband) would need $ 240,000 to cover their share of health care costs in retirement. 57 But only one in five people aged 55 to 64 has saved that much; nearly one-third have saved less than $ 10,000.58
a reform proposal that crops up perennially would turn the federal share of Medicaid into a block grant to the states. If the TANF block grant experience is any guide, this reform would have devastating effects, seriously eroding health insurance for the poor.
Raising taxes by just a few percentage points of its gross domestic product would still leave the United States a very low-tax country and wouldn’t harm its economic growth, 75 but would make a world of difference for needy Americans.
I worry that those who make social policy fail to comprehend what the requirements, rules, and regulations they create mean for the ordinary people who live under them. I hadn’t fully—and studying social policy is my job. But until my family fell down the rabbit hole and experienced these things firsthand, I hadn’t really understood or fully appreciated the ramifications of the design of the American welfare state.
The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
Joshua Cooper RamoBuy on Amazon
As the great seventeenth-century statesman François de Callières wrote: “There is no such thing as a diplomatic triumph.” Even when you think you’ve reached the end of a problem, you are usually simply at the start of new troubles.
Politicians and thinkers would be wise not to try to bend history as “the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner a gardener does for his plants.” To see the world this way, as a ceaselessly complex and adaptive system, requires a revolution. It involves changing the role we imagine for ourselves, from architects of a system we can control and manage to gardeners in a living, shifting ecosystem.
Bak’s sandpile universe was violent —and history-making. It wasn’t that he didn’t see stability in the world, but that he saw stability as a passing phase, as a pause in a system of incredible —and unmappable —dynamism. Bak’s world was like a constantly spinning revolver in a game of Russian roulette, one random trigger-pull away from explosion.
Were the ideas in Bak’s head also true in the lab? Bak had first suggested the idea in a theoretical journal; he didn’t seem to have much of an intention to test it in reality. Could it be done? How do you build a sandpile grain by grain? No one had ever attempted it. So Glenn Held decided to give it a try.
Browder’s investment model at Hermitage wasn’t just to buy and sell Russian stocks. It was to buy shares in the most corrupt, worst-run Russian companies and then press them to change. A company whose shares traded at $ 1 because it was overseen and looted by goons could be worth $ 10 a share if it was managed even slightly better. Buy, agitate, sell: this was Browder’s strategy. And, given the people he was dealing with, between “agitate” and “sell” he made sure he had plenty of security if need be.
“When you’ve been in a market that really can go to zero, it changes the way you think afterward,” he told me. “The main lesson is that just because something is too terrible to contemplate doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.”
When Bak described the “tendency of large systems to evolve into a poised ‘critical’ state, way out of balance, where minor disturbances may lead to events, called avalanches, of all sizes,” he could have been speaking about the Middle East, relations between the United States and China, the oil market, disease, nuclear proliferation, cyberwarfare or a dozen other problems of global affairs and security.
Holling and a team of mathematicians and biologists also found examples of the opposite sorts of systems, filled with what he called a “perverse resilience,” that insisted on preserving bad ideas. In such “maladaptive systems,” Holling explained, “any novelty is either smothered or its inventor ejected. It would represent a rigidity trap.” Such systems might look good for a while, but when they are hit with the unexpected, they react in ways that doom them. They simply can’t shed their wrong ideas fast enough. Sound familiar?
People agreed because they wanted to be part of the community more than they wanted to be right. It was a situation you could find echoed around the world in foreign policy or finance in 2008: a set of shared, wrong ideas, clung to loyally by people who couldn’t quite see past their illusions or the imagination-killing need to agree and fit in. Bak knew that if you wanted to truly understand the world, these commonly held ideas were absolutely blinding.
Despite their good intentions, most of our foreign-policy thinkers today resemble students who arrive to take a test that is composed in a language they do not speak.
These elites were a very small percentage of the Soviet population. But, Kotz and Weir found in their discussions, the nomenklatura decided, once Gorbachev began reforming a system that had protected their rights and privileges, they had more to gain by letting the USSR fracture than by holding it together. If you were sitting on top of the empire when it fell down, the nomenklatura logic went, you would surely be in the best place to pick up the pieces. This was a cold, selfish decision. It was also, fatally, one that Gorbachev hadn’t anticipated in full. “The ultimate explanation for the surprisingly peaceful and sudden demise of the Soviet system,” Weir and Kotz wrote, “was that it was abandoned by most of its own elite.”
Soft power sounds good, it reassures us that there must be something great about our own way of living, but it doesn’t really make much sense if you think about it. Those murderous Bosnians in their Air Jordans are an expression of the diversity that awaits us and that we have to plan for —not some weird exception.
George Santayana, the English philosopher, was right: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Make us poor and we war out of fury; make us rich and we war out of greed.
During times of “offensive dominance,” when technologies gave the edge to attacking forces, wars were more frequent.
Cubism thus begat camouflage, life reflecting art instead of the usual opposite arrangement. Braque liked to joke that this wasn’t a first. After all, he said, soldiers arrayed in the last century’s pale blue or off-white uniforms resembled nothing so much as an impressionist canvas —at least until someone started shooting at them.
Buddhist masters like to say that if you’re trying to reach enlightenment, you must develop, in this order, “right view, right intention, and right action.”
Israeli intelligence task forces coordinated teams of hundreds of people who would spend millions of dollars for a single kill. It also presented all sorts of moral questions for the Israeli military: for instance, how many innocent civilians was it acceptable to kill when trying to take out a keystone terrorist? (The Ministry of Defense asked a group of mathematicians to work on this problem. They submitted an answer —3.4 civilians per dead terrorist —but no one was happy with either the process or the coldness of such a figure.)
what Chinese call a shanshui painting, literally a “mountain and water” image, with looming peaks, hazy clouds, and an ocean that stretches across most of the painting. People or animals usually feature in a shanshui landscape only as tiny brushstrokes, almost accidental ticks of ink dwarfed by the mountains or rivers around them. This is an expression of the idea in Chinese philosophy and art that the environment is far more powerful than any individual. It is never stable and, in its sudden changes from one state to another, more important than the desires of any of us.
When you focus on an object (“ Saddam” or “bank bailouts”) to the exclusion of the swirling, furious energy of the environment around that object (clan rivalries, say, or the real-economy demands of homeowners), you force yourself into a very limited understanding of the world.
any time you hear a crisis response from our leaders that seems to focus on just one object —“bail out the banks” or “kill Osama” —you should feel nervous.
the logic of economist Raghuram Rajan, who argued in 2004 that a Fed policy of constantly fighting for economic growth was limiting the ability of the financial system to develop tools to deal with crisis and slowdown. “Perhaps Chairman Greenspan should be faulted for allowing only two mild recessions during his tenure,” he wrote. “And perhaps we can sleep better at night if we pray, ‘Lord, if there be shocks, let them be varied and preferably moderate ones, so we can stress test our systems.’” This is deep security.
resistance also leaves us in a state of unnerving psychological weakness. It forces us into a reactive mode, waiting to be hit. It drains us, and when resistance policies fail, they leave us more afraid, insecure, and vulnerable.
It might be best to rechristen Homeland Security as the Department of Resilience (a twin to the Department of Defense). The recognition that we need a major commitment to fostering real resilience would in turn elevate ideas like national health care, construction of a better transport infrastructure, and investment in education to a new level of importance. Universal health coverage makes sense not only because it is decent but because building a medical system that touches everyone in the country prepares us to better deal with the unknown. Resilience acknowledges that we can’t possibly anticipate or prevent all future dangers any more than you can look at your beautiful newborn child and be certain that it will never catch a cold or break a leg.
Studies of food webs or trade networks, electrical systems and stock markets, find that as they become more densely linked they also become less resilient; networks, after all, propagate and even amplify disturbances. Worse, the more efficient these networks are, the faster they spread those dangers. Interconnections such as the ties between brokers and banks or between the health of every passenger on a long-distance airplane flight are vehicles for sharing risk, for triggering hysteresis. In a simple linear system, say one bank and one farm, you can map out the effects of a crisis as if you were plotting the route of falling dominoes. But in a networked society, lit up by revolutionary change, such easy prediction is a fantasy. Drop a shock into a network and you get, the strategist Edward Smith has written, “the chain reaction that is set off when a single ping-pong ball is tossed onto a table covered with mouse traps upon which other ping-ping balls are balanced —an almost explosive reaction whose direction and end-state cannot be predicted.” The more closely we are bound together, the weaker we may become.
the minute we try to attack or pin them down, the threats morph into something unrecognizable and even harder to name or confront. Frustrated intelligence analysts call these “self-negating prophecies”: as soon as you figure out what your enemy is doing and move to stop him, he simply shifts to something else.
“the greatest generals who ever lived, we don’t even know their names.” As Jullien explains, they’re unknown to us because they never had to fight a single battle. Their sense of the terrain, of their environment, allowed them to create effects so profound and irresistable that they mooted the need for actual combat.
a lesson that applies almost everywhere in our world now: the moment you hand power over to other people, you get an explosion of curiosity, innovation, and effort.
our future is a race between good innovation and bad innovation. That’s a sprint that will be decided purely by our ability to create. It’s a shift so profound that it evokes the ideas of the American philosopher John David Garcia, who once said that we should reject the notion that increasing human happiness is the most important goal for society. Far better, he said, to increase human creativity. Happiness will follow.
We’re not just passive. We can choose what to do and what not to do. We don’t have to take what we’re being told unquestioningly. We don’t, and can’t, let the same people who got us into this disastrous misalignment with our world pull us further into danger. But making a difference demands that we do, in fact, act. We can no longer outsource our security or our foreign policy the way we might once have. The line between our lives and the world is ever more permeable. In our comfortable cars and houses, in our wealthy-looking nations and our secure-feeling businesses, we can’t delude ourselves about the facts: we’re in history now.
History is on no one’s side. It depends on what we do.”
your address is usually a single topic, so it’s normal for U.S. forms to ask their U.S. customers for state and ZIP code on the same page. You’d need to have some special reason to justify splitting them. Very short pages seem to be OK if they are clearly about a single topic that is different from the one before and the one after. Don’t feel that pages have to be a minimum length.
Ask anticipated questions before surprising ones. Users generally have ideas about what information they need to divulge. It’s best to ask the anticipated questions before you move into something unexpected or unusual.
Ask less intrusive questions before more intrusive. Ease into questions that may intrude on the user’s privacy by dealing with neutral topics first.
If questions come up more than once, explain the difference between them
Recognizing the amount of work, the form doesn’t have a progress indicator. Instead, it has a summary menu, which it calls “Registration Menu.” As you work through several pages, each like the one shown here, a nice little menu updates itself, and you can click to jump around in the form as you find answers.
Be polite: Assume that your users are trying their best. Don’t use a patronizing or accusing tone. If possible, offer a suggestion about how to correct the error. If the error might be due to a privacy problem, explain why you need the data. If the error might be due to a category problem, explain why you have restricted the categories on offer.
McAfee, Andrew; Brynjolfsson, Erik
libraries have acquisitions departments and card catalogs, magazines have editors and tables of contents, and so on. In the early years of the web, numerous attempts were made to apply some of these approaches to the content generated by the crowd. Yahoo originally stood for “Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle,” and it rose to prominence as a sort of card catalog for the net; a human-created and -maintained set of website categories and subcategories.†
one of Wikipedia’s pillars: “Act in good faith, and assume good faith on the part of others.”
By adopting the right principles, norms, institutions, and technologies, the crowd can do a great deal to maintain quality standards, though there may be other trade-offs, like how easily or quickly participants can post new items, how quickly they are shared, who gets to see them, and, yes, how much profit can be earned from the content.
This is generally true: the crowd wants clarity not just on how contributions will be evaluated, but also on how they’ll be used, and who will be able to benefit from them.
how can the effort as a whole ensure that the really important work gets done? By realizing that in this case, “important” actually means the work that’s most relevant to the community of end users, by enabling these users to contribute, and by having some confidence that they will do so.
In fact, there was not even an attempt to stick to one version of Linux. Instead, the operating system could “fork” so that it had one version called Raspbian optimized for the Raspberry Pi, a credit card–sized programmable computer that costs less than $ 40, while other Linux variants were optimized for giant servers. Forking was seen as evidence of Linux’s success, rather than as a loss of control, and it showed the benefits of letting contributors organize themselves and their work.
Large crowds can be brought together to build highly useful products like Linux. Such efforts require “geeky leadership” that follows principles of openness, noncredentialism, self-selection, verifiability, and clarity about goals and outcomes.
When such rapid progress is occurring, the knowledge of the core in organizations within these industries can easily become out of date. Somewhere out there in the crowd, meanwhile, are, in all likelihood, at least some of the people who help come up with the latest advances, or their students, and thus are quite familiar with them. The core can become stale, in short, while the crowd really can’t.
The freedom of all is essential to my freedom. —Mikhail Bakunin, 1871
The second reason human social skills remain so valuable is that most of us don’t find numbers and algorithms alone very persuasive. We’re much more swayed by a good story or compelling anecdote then we are by a table full of statistically significant results.
analytical ability is even more valuable when it’s paired with high social skills; this combination is what helps good ideas spread and be accepted.
the key practice for managers within these companies is that they try not to let their own biases and judgments play too large a role in determining which of the ideas they hear are the good ones, and thus worthy of implementation. Instead, they fall back whenever possible on the processes of iteration and experimentation to find unbiased evidence on the quality of a new idea. Managers, in other words, step away from their traditional roles as evaluators and gatekeepers of ideas. This shift is uncomfortable for some, who fear (with justification) that some bad ideas will see the light of day, but many of the most impressive companies and managers we’ve encountered believe the benefits are far greater than the risks.
companies will also exist for a much more important reason: they are one of the best ways we’ve ever come up with to get big things done in the world. To feed people and improve their health; to provide entertainment and access to knowledge; to improve material conditions of life and to do so for more and more people over time, all around the planet. The new technologies of the crowd will help greatly with all this, but they will not displace companies, which are one of the cornerstone technologies of the core.
So we should ask not “What will technology do to us?” but rather “What do we want to do with technology?”
It wasn’t the trip to Cairo that had caused the shift, scientists were convinced, or the divorce or desert trek. It was that Lisa had focused on changing just one habit—smoking—at first. Everyone in the study had gone through a similar process. By focusing on one pattern—what is known as a “keystone habit”—Lisa had taught herself how to reprogram the other routines in her life, as well.
One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.prl.
It focuses on habits as they are technically defined: the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day.
This process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as “chunking,” and it’s at the root of how habits form. 1.18 There are dozens—if not hundreds—of behavioral chunks that we rely on every day. Some are simple: You automatically put toothpaste on your toothbrush before sticking it in your mouth. Some, such as getting dressed or making the kids’ lunch, are a little more complex.
Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors, such as walking and choosing what to eat, so we can devote mental energy to inventing spears, irrigation systems, and, eventually, airplanes and video games.
This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future:
the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically. However, simply understanding how habits work—learning the structure of the habit loop—makes them easier to control. Once you break a habit into its components, you can fiddle with the gears.
cues can be almost anything, from a visual trigger such as a candy bar or a television commercial to a certain place, a time of day, an emotion, a sequence of thoughts, or the company of particular people.
First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards. If you get those elements right, Hopkins promised, it was like magic. Look at Pepsodent: He had identified a cue—tooth film—and a reward—beautiful teeth—that had persuaded millions to start a daily ritual.
as we associate cues with certain rewards, a subconscious craving emerges in our brains that starts the habit loop spinning.
This is how new habits are created: by putting together a cue, a routine, and a reward, and then cultivating a craving that drives the loop.
But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward—craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment—will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.
“Consumers need some kind of signal that a product is working,” Tracy Sinclair, who was a brand manager for Oral-B and Crest Kids Toothpaste, told me. “We can make toothpaste taste like anything—blueberries, green tea—and as long as it has a cool tingle, people feel like their mouth is clean. The tingling doesn’t make the toothpaste work any better. It just convinces people it’s doing the job.”
Want to exercise more? Choose a cue, such as going to the gym as soon as you wake up, and a reward, such as a smoothie after each workout. Then think about that smoothie, or about the endorphin rush you’ll feel. Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually, that craving will make it easier to push through the gym doors every day.
“Foaming is a huge reward,” said Sinclair, the brand manager. “Shampoo doesn’t have to foam, but we add foaming chemicals because people expect it each time they wash their hair. Same thing with laundry detergent. And toothpaste—now every company adds sodium laureth sulfate to make toothpaste foam more. There’s no cleaning benefit, but people feel better when there’s a bunch of suds around their mouth. Once the customer starts expecting that foam, the habit starts growing.”
If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.
It wasn’t God that mattered, the researchers figured out. It was belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives, until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior. “I wouldn’t have said this a year ago—that’s how fast our understanding is changing,” said Tonigan, the University of New Mexico researcher, “but belief seems critical. You don’t have to believe in God, but you do need the capacity to believe that things will get better. “Even if you give people better habits, it doesn’t repair why they started drinking in the first place. Eventually they’ll have a bad day, and no new routine is going to make everything seem okay. What can make a difference is believing that they can cope with that stress without alcohol.”
When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real. For most people who overhaul their lives, there are no seminal moments or life-altering disasters. There are simply communities—sometimes of just one other person—who make change believable.
Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.
Some departments at NASA, for instance, were overhauling themselves by deliberately instituting organizational routines that encouraged engineers to take more risks. When unmanned rockets exploded on takeoff, department heads would applaud, so that everyone would know their division had tried and failed, but at least they had tried. Eventually, mission control filled with applause every time something expensive blew up. It became an organizational habit.
When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”
Small wins are exactly what they sound like, and are part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. “Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage,” one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.” 4.14 Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
“Small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being a demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal,” wrote Karl Weick, a prominent organizational psychologist. “More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered … like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up.”
Some research, for instance, suggested that the biggest cause of infant deaths was premature births. And the reason babies were born too early was that mothers suffered from malnourishment during pregnancy. So to lower infant mortality, improve mothers’ diets. Simple, right? But to stop malnourishment, women had to improve their diets before they became pregnant. Which meant the government had to start educating women about nutrition before they became sexually active. Which meant officials had to create nutrition curriculums inside high schools. However, when O’Neill began asking about how to create those curriculums, he discovered that many high school teachers in rural areas didn’t know enough basic biology to teach nutrition. So the government had to remake how teachers were getting educated in college, and give them a stronger grounding in biology so they could eventually teach nutrition to teenage girls, so those teenagers would eat better before they started having sex, and, eventually, be sufficiently nourished when they had children. Poor teacher training, the officials working with O’Neill finally figured out, was a root cause of high infant mortality. If you asked doctors or public health officials for a plan to fight infant deaths, none of them would have suggested changing how teachers are trained. They wouldn’t have known there was a link. However, by teaching college students about biology, you made it possible for them to eventually pass on that knowledge to teenagers, who started eating healthier, and years later give birth to stronger babies. Today, the U.S. 4.22 infant mortality rate is 68 percent lower than when O’Neill started the job.
This is the final way that keystone habits encourage widespread change: by creating cultures where new values become ingrained. Keystone habits make tough choices—such as firing a top executive—easier, because when that person violates the culture, it’s clear they have to go.
“Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not.… Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.”
For Starbucks, willpower is more than an academic curiosity. When the company began plotting its massive growth strategy in the late 1990s, executives recognized that success required cultivating an environment that justified paying four dollars for a fancy cup of coffee. The company needed to train its employees to deliver a bit of joy alongside lattes and scones. So early on, Starbucks started researching how they could teach employees to regulate their emotions and marshal their self-discipline to deliver a burst of pep with every serving. Unless baristas are trained to put aside their personal problems, the emotions of some employees will inevitably spill into how they treat customers. However, if a worker knows how to remain focused and disciplined, even at the end of an eight-hour shift, they’ll deliver the higher class of fast food service that Starbucks customers expect. The company spent millions of dollars developing curriculums to train employees on self-discipline. Executives wrote workbooks that, in effect, serve as guides to how to make willpower a habit in workers’ lives.
Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.” Researchers have built on this finding to explain all sorts of phenomena. Some have suggested it helps clarify why otherwise successful people succumb to extramarital affairs (which are most likely to start late at night after a long day of using willpower at work) or why good physicians make dumb mistakes (which most often occur after a doctor has finished a long, complicated task that requires intense focus). 5.5 “If you want to do something that requires willpower—like going for a run after work—you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day,” Muraven told me. “If you use it up too early on tedious tasks like writing emails or filling out complicated and boring expense forms, all the strength will be gone by the time you get home.”
“That’s why signing kids up for piano lessons or sports is so important. It has nothing to do with creating a good musician or a five-year-old soccer star,” said Heatherton. “When you learn to force yourself to practice for an hour or run fifteen laps, you start building self-regulatory strength. A five-year-old who can follow the ball for ten minutes becomes a sixth grader who can start his homework on time.”
Students who had been treated rudely, on the other hand, did terribly. They kept forgetting to hit the space bar. They said they were tired and couldn’t focus. Their willpower muscle, researchers determined, had been fatigued by the brusque instructions. When Muraven started exploring why students who had been treated kindly had more willpower he found that the key difference was the sense of control they had over their experience. “We’ve found this again and again,” Muraven told me. “When people are asked to do something that takes self-control, if they think they are doing it for personal reasons—if they feel like it’s a choice or something they enjoy because it helps someone else—it’s much less taxing. If they feel like they have no autonomy, if they’re just following orders, their willpower muscles get tired much faster. In both cases, people ignored the cookies. But when the students were treated like cogs, rather than people, it took a lot more willpower.”
Simply giving employees a sense of agency—a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision-making authority—can radically increase how much energy and focus they bring to their jobs.
What makes the difference between success or failure are a designer’s routines—whether they have a system for getting Italian broadcloth before wholesalers’ stocks sell out, a process for finding the best zipper and button seamstresses, a routine for shipping a dress to a store in ten days, rather than three weeks. Fashion is such a complicated business that, without the right processes, a new company will get bogged down with logistics, and once that happens, creativity ceases to matter. And which new designers are most likely to have the right habits? The ones who have formed the right truces and found the right alliances. 6.26 Truces are so important that new fashion labels usually succeed only if they are headed by people who left other fashion companies on good terms.
Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits. NASA administrators, for instance, tried for years to improve the agency’s safety habits, but those efforts were unsuccessful until the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. In the wake of that tragedy, the organization was able to overhaul how it enforced quality standards. 6.40 Airline pilots, too, spent years trying to convince plane manufacturers and air traffic controllers to redesign how cockpits were laid out and traffic controllers communicated. Then, a runway error on the Spanish island of Tenerife in 1977 killed 583 people and, within five years, cockpit design, runway procedures, and air traffic controller communication routines were overhauled.
Same will happen after a very, very bad cyber attack.
A company with dysfunctional habits can’t turn around simply because a leader orders it. Rather, wise executives seek out moments of crisis—or create the perception of crisis—and cultivate the sense that something must change, until everyone is finally ready to overhaul the patterns they live with each day.
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel told a conference of chief executives in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown, soon after he was appointed as President Obama’s chief of staff. “This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not do before.” Soon afterward, the Obama administration convinced a once-reluctant Congress to pass the president’s $ 787 billion stimulus plan. Congress also passed Obama’s health care reform law, reworked consumer protection laws, and approved dozens of other statutes, from expanding children’s health insurance to giving women new opportunities to sue over wage discrimination. It was one of the biggest policy overhauls since the Great Society and the New Deal, and it happened because, in the aftermath of a financial catastrophe, lawmakers saw opportunity.
as marketers and psychologists figured out long ago, if we start our shopping sprees by loading up on healthy stuff, we’re much more likely to buy Doritos, Oreos, and frozen pizza when we encounter them later on.
To change people’s diets, the exotic must be made familiar. And to do that, you must camouflage it in everyday garb. 7.22 To convince Americans to eat livers and kidneys, housewives had to know how to make the foods look, taste, and smell as similar as possible to what their families expected to see on the dinner table, the scientists concluded.
“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly. Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawnmower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance. “And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”
When a young Martin Luther King, Jr., arrived in Montgomery in 1954, for instance, a year before Parks’s arrest, he found a majority of the city’s blacks accepted segregation “without apparent protest. Not only did they seem resigned to segregation per se; they also accepted the abuses and indignities which came with it.”
In general, sociologists say, most of us have friends who are like us. We might have a few close acquaintances who are richer, a few who are poorer, and a few of different races—but, on the whole, our deepest relationships tend to be with people who look like us, earn about the same amount of money, and come from similar backgrounds. Parks’s friends, in contrast, spanned Montgomery’s social and economic hierarchies. She had what sociologists call “strong ties”—firsthand relationships—with dozens of groups throughout Montgomery that didn’t usually come into contact with one another. “This was absolutely key,” Branch said. “Rosa Parks transcended the social stratifications of the black community and Montgomery as a whole. She was friends with field hands and college professors.” And the power of those friendships became apparent as soon as Parks landed in jail.
Studies show that people have no problem ignoring strangers’ injuries, but when a friend is insulted, our sense of outrage is enough to overcome the inertia that usually makes protests hard to organize. When Parks’s friends learned about her arrest and the boycott, the social habits of friendship—the natural inclination to help someone we respect—kicked in.
“The congregation and the small groups are like a one-two punch. You have this big crowd to remind you why you’re doing this in the first place, and a small group of close friends to help you focus on how to be faithful. Together, they’re like glue. We have over five thousand small groups now. It’s the only thing that makes a church this size manageable. Otherwise, I’d work myself to death, and 95 percent of the congregation would never receive the attention they came here looking for.”
Most of the time, as our bodies move in and out of different phases of rest, our most primitive neurological structure—the brain stem—paralyzes our limbs and nervous system, allowing our brains to experience dreams without our bodies moving. Usually, people can make the transition in and out of paralysis multiple times each night without any problems. Within neurology, it’s known as the “switch.”
To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.” Two groups saw the exact same event, but from a neurological perspective, they viewed it differently. People with gambling problems got a mental high from the near misses—which, Habib hypothesizes, is probably why they gamble for so much longer than everyone else: because the near miss triggers those habits that prompt them to put down another bet. The nonproblem gamblers, when they saw a near miss, got a dose of apprehension that triggered a different habit, the one that says I should quit before it gets worse.
Gamblers who keep betting after near wins are what make casinos, racetracks, and state lotteries so profitable. “Adding a near miss to a lottery is like pouring jet fuel on a fire,” said a state lottery consultant who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. “You want to know why sales have exploded? Every other scratch-off ticket is designed to make you feel like you almost won.”
Water, he said, is the most apt analogy for how a habit works. Water “hollows out for itself a channel, which grows broader and deeper; and, after having ceased to flow, it resumes, when it flows again, the path traced by itself before.”
Many psychologists and neuroscientists have been converging on a description of the brain’s functioning that helps us make sense of these seeming contradictions. The approach involves a distinction between two kinds of thinking, one that is intuitive and automatic, and another that is reflective and rational.1 We will call the first the Automatic System and the second the Reflective System. (In the psychology literature, these two systems are sometimes referred to as System 1 and System 2, respectively.)
(Voters, by the way, seem to rely primarily on their Automatic System.3 A candidate who makes a bad first impression, or who tries to win votes by complex arguments and statistical demonstrations, may well run into trouble.)*
Anchors can even influence how you think your life is going. In one experiment, college students were asked two questions: (a) How happy are you? (b) How often are you dating? When the two questions were asked in this order the correlation between the two questions was quite low (.11). But when the question order was reversed, so that the dating question was asked first, the correlation jumped to .62.
anchors serve as nudges. We can influence the figure you will choose in a particular situation by ever-so-subtly suggesting a starting point for your thought process.
Lawyers who sue cigarette companies often win astronomical amounts, in part because they have successfully induced juries to anchor on multimillion-dollar figures. Clever negotiators often get amazing deals for their clients by producing an opening offer that makes their adversary thrilled to pay half that very high amount.
the availability heuristic. They assess the likelihood of risks by asking how readily examples come to mind. If people can easily think of relevant examples, they are far more likely to be frightened and concerned than if they cannot.
The availability heuristic helps to explain much risk-related behavior, including both public and private decisions to take precautions. Whether people buy insurance for natural disasters is greatly affected by recent experiences.6 In the aftermath of an earthquake, purchases of new earthquake insurance policies rise sharply—but purchases decline steadily from that point, as vivid memories recede.
Biased assessments of risk can perversely influence how we prepare for and respond to crises, business choices, and the political process. When Internet stocks have done very well, people might well buy Internet stocks, even if by that point they’ve become a bad investment. Or suppose that people falsely think that some risks (a nuclear power accident) are high, whereas others (a stroke) are relatively low. Such misperceptions can affect policy, because governments are likely to allocate their resources in a way that fits with people’s fears rather than in response to the most likely danger.
A good way to increase people’s fear of a bad outcome is to remind them of a related incident in which things went wrong; a good way to increase people’s confidence is to remind them of a similar situation in which everything worked out for the best. The pervasive problems are that easily remembered events may inflate people’s probability judgments, and that if no such events come to mind, their judgments of likelihoods might be distorted downward.
Unrealistic optimism is a pervasive feature of human life; it characterizes most people in most social categories. When they overestimate their personal immunity from harm, people may fail to take sensible preventive steps. If people are running risks because of unrealistic optimism, they might be able to benefit from a nudge. In fact, we have already mentioned one possibility: if people are reminded of a bad event, they may not continue to be so optimistic.
Loss aversion helps produce inertia, meaning a strong desire to stick with your current holdings. If you are reluctant to give up what you have because you do not want to incur losses, then you will turn down trades you might have otherwise made.
Roughly speaking, losing something makes you twice as miserable as gaining the same thing makes you happy. In more technical language, people are “loss averse.”
Once I have a mug, I don’t want to give it up. But if I don’t have one, I don’t feel an urgent need to buy one. What this means is that people do not assign specific values to objects. When they have to give something up, they are hurt more than they are pleased if they acquire the very same thing.
The combination of loss aversion with mindless choosing implies that if an option is designated as the “default,” it will attract a large market share. Default options thus act as powerful nudges. In many contexts defaults have some extra nudging power because consumers may feel, rightly or wrongly, that default options come with an implicit endorsement from the default setter, be it the employer, government, or TV scheduler.
It turns out that information campaign (b), framed in terms of losses, is far more effective than information campaign (a). If the government wants to encourage energy conservation, option (b) is a stronger nudge.
Self-control problems can be illuminated by thinking about an individual as containing two semiautonomous selves, a far-sighted “Planner” and a myopic “Doer.” You can think of the Planner as speaking for your Reflective System, or the Mr. Spock lurking within you, and the Doer as heavily influenced by the Automatic System, or everyone’s Homer Simpson. The Planner is trying to promote your long-term welfare but must cope with the feelings, mischief, and strong will of the Doer, who is exposed to the temptations that come with arousal.
people sat down to a large bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and were told to eat as much as they wanted. Unbeknownst to them, the soup bowls were designed to refill themselves (with empty bottoms connected to machinery beneath the table). No matter how much soup subjects ate, the bowl never emptied. Many people just kept eating, not paying attention to the fact that they were really eating a great deal of soup, until the experiment was (mercifully) ended. Large plates and large packages mean more eating; they are a form of choice architecture, and they work as major nudges. (Hint: if you would like to lose weight, get smaller plates, buy little packages of what you like, and don’t keep tempting food in the refrigerator.)
Markets provide strong incentives for firms to cater to the demands of consumers, and firms will compete to meet those demands, whether or not those demands represent the wisest choices. One firm might devise a clever self-control device such as a Christmas club, but that firm cannot prevent another firm from offering to lend people money in anticipation of the receipts of those funds. Credit cards and Christmas clubs compete, and indeed both are offered by the same institutions—banks. While competition does drive down prices, it does not always lead to an outcome that is best for consumers.
When investments pay off, people are willing to take big chances with their “winnings.” For example, mental accounting contributed to the large increase in stock prices in the 1990s, as many people took on more and more risk with the justification that they were playing only with their gains from the past few years. Similarly, people are far more likely to splurge impulsively on a big luxury purchase when they receive an unexpected windfall than with savings that they have accumulated over time, even if those savings are fully available to be spent.
ties were originally used as napkins; they actually had a function.)
Federal judges on three-judge panels are affected by the votes of their colleagues. The typical Republican appointee shows pretty liberal voting patterns when sitting with two Democratic appointees, and the typical Democratic appointee shows pretty conservative voting patterns when sitting with two Republican appointees. Both sets of appointees show far more moderate voting patterns when they are sitting with at least one judge appointed by a president of the opposing political party.2
is, ignorance, on the part of all or most, about what other people think. We may follow a practice or a tradition not because we like it, or even think it defensible, but merely because we think that most other people like it. Many social practices persist for this reason, and a small shock, or nudge, can dislodge them.6 A dramatic example is communism in the former Soviet bloc, which lasted in part because people were unaware how many people despised the regime. Dramatic but less world-historical changes, rejecting long-standing practices, can often be produced by a nudge that starts a kind of bandwagon effect.
Candidates for public office, or political parties, do the same thing; they emphasize that “most people are turning to” their preferred candidates, hoping that the very statement can make itself true. Nothing is worse than a perception that voters are leaving a candidate in droves. Indeed, a perception of that kind helped to account for the Democratic nomination of John Kerry in 2004. When Democrats shifted from Howard Dean to John Kerry, it was not because each Democratic voter made an independent judgment on Kerry’s behalf. It was in large part because of a widespread perception that other people were flocking to Kerry.
in the process of social contagion, public knowledge is subject to a kind of escalation or spiral, in which most people come to think that optimistic view is correct simply because everyone else seems to accept it. As the media endorses that view, people end up believing that we are in a “new era,” and feedback loops help to bring about ever-increasing prices. In his words, the “price-story-price loop repeats again and again during a speculative bubble.” Eventually the bubble is bound to pop, because it depends on social judgments that cannot be sustained over the long term.
If choice architects want to shift behavior and to do so with a nudge, they might simply inform people about what other people are doing. Sometimes the practices of others are surprising, and hence people are much affected by learning what they are.
Social nudges can also be used to decrease energy use. To see how, consider a study of the power of social norms, involving nearly three hundred households in San Marcos, California.20 All of the households were informed about how much energy they had used in previous weeks; they were also given (accurate) information about the average consumption of energy by households in their neighborhood. The effects on behavior were both clear and striking. In the following weeks, the above-average energy users significantly decreased their energy use; the below-average energy users significantly increased their energy use. The latter finding is called a boomerang effect, and it offers an important warning. If you want to nudge people into socially desirable behavior, do not, by any means, let them know that their current actions are better than the social norm.
Unsurprisingly, but significantly, the big energy users showed an even larger decrease when they received the unhappy emoticon. The more important finding was that when below-average energy users received the happy emoticon, the boomerang effect completely disappeared! When they were merely told that their energy use was below average, they felt that they had some “room” to increase consumption, but when the informational message was combined with an emotional nudge, they didn’t adjust their use upward. Many people, including Republicans and Democrats alike, are arguing for energy conservation on grounds of national security, economic growth, and environmental protection. To promote energy conservation, a great deal can be done with well-chosen social nudges.
The “mere-measurement effect” refers to the finding that when people are asked what they intend to do, they become more likely to act in accordance with their answers.
It turns out that if you ask people, the day before the election, whether they intend to vote, you can increase the probability of their voting by as much as 25 percent!22
The nudge provided by asking people what they intend to do can be accentuated by asking them when and how they plan to do it. This insight falls into the category of what the great psychologist Kurt Lewin called “channel factors,” a term he used for small influences that could either facilitate or inhibit certain behaviors. Think about the “channel” as similar to the path a river takes after the spring snow melt. The path can be determined by seemingly tiny changes in the landscape. For people, Lewin argued that similarly tiny factors can create surprisingly strong inhibitors to behavior that people “want” to take. Often we can do more to facilitate good behavior by removing some small obstacle than by trying to shove people in a certain direction.
offer nudges that are most likely to help and least likely to inflict harm.* A slightly longer answer is that people will need nudges for decisions that are difficult and rare, for which they do not get prompt feedback, and when they have trouble translating aspects of the situation into terms that they can easily understand.
for all their virtues, markets often give companies a strong incentive to cater to (and profit from) human frailties, rather than to try to eradicate them or to minimize their effects.
Generally, the higher the stakes, the less often we are able to practice. Most of us buy houses and cars not more than once or twice a decade, but we are really practiced at grocery shopping. Most families have mastered the art of milk inventory control, not by solving the relevant mathematical equation but through trial and error.*
The same problem arises for the choice among health plans; we may have little understanding of the effects of our selection. If your daughter gets a rare disease, will she be able to see a good specialist? How long will she have to wait in line? When people have a hard time predicting how their choices will end up affecting their lives, they have less to gain by numerous options and perhaps even by choosing for themselves. A nudge might be welcomed.
many insurance products have all of the fraught features that we have sketched. The benefits from holding the insurance are delayed, the probability of having a claim is hard to analyze, consumers do not get useful feedback on whether they are getting a good return on their insurance purchases, and the mapping from what they are buying to what they are getting can be ambiguous.
If consumers have a less than fully rational belief, firms often have more incentive to cater to that belief than to eradicate it. When many people were still afraid of flying, it was common to see airline flight insurance sold at airports at exorbitant prices. There were no booths in airports selling people advice not to buy such insurance.
required choosing is generally more appropriate for simple yes-or-no decisions than for more complex choices. At a restaurant, the default option is to take the dish as the chef usually prepares it, with the option to ask that certain ingredients be added or removed. In the extreme, required choosing would imply that the diner has to give the chef the recipe for every dish she orders! When choices are highly complex, required choosing may not be a good idea; it might not even be feasible.
Leaving the gas cap behind is a special kind of predictable error psychologists call a “postcompletion” error.2 The idea is that when you have finished your main task, you tend to forget things relating to previous steps. Other examples include leaving your ATM card in the machine after getting your cash, or leaving the original in the copying machine after getting your copies. Most ATMs (but not all) no longer allow this error because you get your card back immediately. Another strategy, suggested by Norman, is to use what he calls a “forcing function,” meaning that in order to get what you want, you have to do something else first. So if in order to get your cash, you have to remove the card, you will not forget to do so.
The nozzles that deliver diesel fuel are too large to fit into the opening on cars that use gasoline, so it is not possible to make the mistake of putting diesel fuel in your gasoline-powered car (though it is still possible to make the opposite mistake). The same principle has been used to reduce the number of errors involving anesthesia. One study found that human error (rather than equipment failure) caused 82 percent of the “critical incidents.” A common error was that the hose for one drug was hooked up to the wrong delivery port, so the patient received the wrong drug. This problem was solved by designing the equipment so that the gas nozzles and connectors were different for each drug. It became physically impossible to make this previously frequent mistake.3
warning systems have to avoid the problem of offering so many warnings that they are ignored. If our computer constantly nags us about whether we are sure we want to open that attachment, we begin to click “yes” without thinking about it. These warnings are thus rendered useless.
we propose a very mild form of government regulation, a species of libertarian paternalism that we call RECAP: Record, Evaluate, and Compare Alternative Prices. Here is how RECAP would work in the cell phone market. The government would not regulate how much issuers could charge for services, but it would regulate their disclosure practices. The central goal would be to inform customers of every kind of fee that currently exists. This would not be done by printing a long unintelligible document in fine print. Instead, issuers would be required to make public their fee schedule in a spread-sheetlike format that would include all relevant formulas. Suppose you are in Toronto and your cell phone rings. How much is it going to cost you to answer it? What if you download some email? All these prices would be embedded in the formulas. This is the price disclosure part of the regulation. The usage disclosure requirement would be that once a year, issuers would have to send their customers a complete listing of all the ways they had used the phone and all the fees that had been incurred. This report would be sent two ways, by mail and, more important, electronically. The electronic version would also be stored and downloadable on a secure Web site. Producing the RECAP reports would cost cell phone carriers very little, but the reports would be extremely useful for customers who want to compare the pricing plans of cell phone providers, especially after they had received their first annual statement. Private Web sites similar to existing travel sites would emerge to allow an easy way to compare services. With just a few quick clicks, a shopper would easily be able to import her usage data from the past year and find out how much various carriers would have charged, given her usage patterns.* Consumers who are new to the product (getting a cell phone for the first time, for example) would have to guess usage information for various categories, but the following year they could take full advantage of the system’s capabilities. We will see that in many domains, from mortgages and credit cards to energy use to Medicare, a RECAP program could greatly improve people’s ability to make good choices.
One strategy to use is what Amos Tversky (1972) called “elimination by aspects.” Someone using this strategy first decides what aspect is most important (say, commuting distance), establishes a cutoff level (say, no more than a thirty-minute commute), then eliminates all the alternatives that do not come up to this standard. The process is repeated, attribute by attribute (no more than $1,500 per month; at least two bedrooms; dogs permitted), until either a choice is made or the set is narrowed down enough to switch over to a compensatory evaluation of the “finalists.” When people are using a simplifying strategy of this kind, alternatives that do not meet the minimum cutoff scores may be eliminated even if they are fabulous on all other dimensions. So, for example, an apartment that is a thirty-five-minute commute will not be considered even if it has a dynamite view and costs two hundred dollars a month less than any of the alternatives. Social science research reveals that as the choices become more numerous and/or vary on more dimensions, people are more likely to adopt simplifying strategies.
If we want to protect the environment and to increase energy independence, similar strategies could be used to make costs more salient. Suppose the thermostat in your home was programmed to tell you the cost per hour of lowering the temperature a few degrees during the heat wave. This would probably have more effect on your behavior than quietly raising the price of electricity, a change that will be experienced only at the end of the month when the bill comes.
We interpret the statement “I should be saving (or dieting, or exercising) more” to imply that people would be open to strategies that would help them achieve these goals. In other words, they are open to a nudge. They might even be grateful for one.
participation rates under the opt-in approach were barely 20 percent after three months of employment, gradually increasing to 65 percent after thirty-six months. But when automatic enrollment was adopted, enrollment of new employees jumped to 90 percent immediately and increased to more than 98 percent within thirty-six months. Automatic enrollment thus has two effects: participants join sooner, and more participants join eventually.
With required choosing in place, employees have to state their preferences, and there is no default option. As compared with the usual opt-in approach (you are not enrolled unless you decide to fill out the forms), required choosing should increase participation rates. One company switched from an opt-in regime to active decisions and found that participation rates increased by about 25 percentage points.8
While automatic enrollment or “quick” enrollment makes the process of joining a retirement plan less daunting, expanding the number of funds available to participants can have the opposite effect. One study finds that the more options in the plan, the lower the participation rates.10 This finding should not be surprising. With more options, the process becomes more confusing and difficult, and some people will refuse to choose at all.
Another common rule of thumb is to contribute to a retirement account the minimum amount necessary to get the full employer match. If the employer matches employees’ contributions up to 6 percent of pay, then many employees contribute 6 percent. If participants are behaving this way, then firms wanting to encourage employee savings might alter their matching formula to help workers. Changing the match formula from 50 percent on the first 6 percent of pay to 30 percent on the first 10 percent of pay would probably increase contribution rates. Those who use the match threshold as a rule of thumb would save more with a higher matching threshold.
the diversification heuristic. “When in doubt, diversify.” Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In general, diversification is a great idea, but there is a big difference between sensible diversification and the naïve kind. A special case of this rule of thumb is what might be called the “1/n” heuristic: “When faced with ‘n’ options, divide assets evenly across the options.”3 Put the same number of eggs in each basket.
Often people do not diversify at all, and sometimes employees invest a lot of their money in their employer’s stock. Amazing but true: five million Americans have more than 60 percent of their retirement savings in company stock.8
a dollar in company stock is worth less than half the value of a dollar in a mutual fund! In other words, when firms foist company stock onto their employees, it is like paying them fifty cents on the dollar.
Online shopping is especially likely to help women and minority groups. A study of automobile shopping found that women and African-Americans pay about the same amount as white males when they buy a car online, but at the dealership they pay more, even after you account for other factors, such as income.4
One helpful nudge would be to simplify the financial aid application. The complicated format of these forms can discourage students from applying for financial aid and cause them to seek pricey direct-to-consumer loans instead. Although the Department of Education has not released a specific formula for how it determines how much aid a family should receive, an application of RECAP to student loans would start with cutting down the number of questions on the FAFSA and making them uniform for all loans, federal and private.
When the plan was launched in the spring of 2000, every participant who was then in the workforce was asked to choose a portfolio. In the years following the launch, new workers (mostly young people) have joined the plan, and they were also asked to choose a portfolio. But soon after the initial enrollment period, the government ended its advertising campaign encouraging participants to make an active choice. Moreover, private funds themselves greatly reduced their advertising aimed at attracting investments. Probably as a result of both these factors, the proportion of people choosing their own portfolios fell as well. For those workers joining the plan in April 2006 (the most recent enrollment period for which we have data), only 8 percent selected their own portfolios!* Because these new participants are primarily young workers, this percentage is most usefully compared with that of workers who were under age twenty-two when the plan was launched in 2000. That group chose their own portfolios 56.7 percent of the time in 2000, much more than now.
The worst feature of the Swedish plan was the decision to encourage participants to choose their own portfolios. In complex situations, the government might actually be able to provide some useful hints. Recall a main lesson from Part 1: if the underlying decision is difficult and unfamiliar, and if people do not get prompt feedback when they err, then it’s legitimate, even good, to nudge a bit. In this context, it would have been better for the government to say something like this: “We have designed a program that has a comprehensive set of funds for you to choose from. If you do not feel comfortable making this decision on your own, you could consult with an expert, or you could choose the default fund that has been designed by experts for people like you.” The Swedish government seems to agree with us: it no longer actively encourages people to choose their own portfolios.
If the United States ever adopts similar partial privatization of its own Social Security system, whether as an alternative to or substitute for the traditional system, many lessons can usefully be learned from the Swedish experience. Because the U.S. economy is more than thirty times as big as Sweden’s, a similar free-entry system would probably generate thousands of funds. This might make those who believe in the Just Maximize Choices mantra happy, but most Humans would find choosing from such a long list bewildering. A better plan would start by following Sweden’s lead of choosing a good default plan, containing mostly index funds with managers selected by competitive bidding. Participants would then be guided through a simplified choice process (preferably on the Web). The process would start with a yes-or-no question: “Do you want the default fund?” For those who said yes, their task would be done (though of course they could always change their minds at a later date). Those who rejected the default would be offered a small set of blended funds, perhaps based on the age of the participant (again privately managed with competitive fees). Only participants who rejected all of these funds would get to the comprehensive list. Evidence from the private sector suggests that few participants would make use of the big list, but their right to do so would be fully protected.
Before Part D, about half of all American seniors—approximately twenty-one million—had some form of prescription drug coverage through private plans or a government source such as the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“If consumers are up to this task, then their choices will ensure that the plans, and insurers, that succeed in the market are ones that meet their needs,” writes the Nobel Prize winner Daniel McFadden, a University of California–Berkeley economist who has studied Part D extensively. “However, if many are confused or confounded, the market will not get the signals it needs to work satisfactorily.”3 With so many complex plans to choose from, it should not be a huge surprise that seniors have had a difficult time sending the right signals.
offering people forty-six choices and telling them to ask for help is likely to be about as good as no help at all. And in Medicare Part D’s case, many of the groups meant to assist seniors were confused themselves. The confusion spread to medical professionals, who agreed with their patients that the number of plans in the current program bewildered everyone. Others, such as AARP, decided to go into the business of offering insurance plans as well as giving advice about which plan to select, a pretty obvious conflict of interest.
The poorest and sickest enrollees are those people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid (and so are called the “dual eligibles”). These people are disproportionately African-American, Latino, and female. Dual eligibles are more likely to have diabetes and strokes than other Medicare beneficiaries, and they use, on average, ten or more prescription drugs.9 They include the most severely disabled Americans, physically and cognitively handicapped men and women of all ages, and elderly patients suffering from dementia and requiring full-time care. The government has not said exactly how many dual eligibles actively chose a plan, but the evidence we have suggests that very few did. Dual eligibles are able to switch plans at any time—but if few are actively choosing plans, we suspect that few are taking advantage of the flexible switching option.
It seems somewhere between callous and irresponsible to assign plans without even looking at people’s specific needs. Random assignment is also inconsistent with the market-based philosophy of the plan. In markets, better products get a higher share, and most free-market economists consider this a good feature. We do not think that every automobile manufacturer should get the same market share any more than we think that families should pick their cars at random. Why should we want randomness for insurance plans?
Katie allowed us to see how painful choosing a plan would be by kindly providing a list of the drugs her mother takes. Thaler logged onto the Medicare Part D Web site and tried his luck. What a nightmare! Just to give one example, the site does not have a spell checker. If you type “Zanax” instead of “Xanax,” you don’t get any help (unlike at Google, for example). This is a problem because drug names resemble strings of random letters, so typing errors are to be expected. Getting all the dosages right is also tricky. You need to know both the size of the pill (for example, 25 mg) and how frequently it is taken. The Web site assumes you take a generic drug, if it is available, and gives you the option of keeping the premium brand drug. Many people, however, take generics while calling them by their brand name, which requires paying close attention to every drug selection. Once a user manages to get all the data entered, the Web site offers three plan suggestions, with annual cost estimates. (Technophobic seniors can call 1-800-MEDICARE and have a customer service representative give them the three plan suggestions and prices, but no explanation is offered for how these plans have been chosen.)14
We all got different estimates because prescription drug plans are constantly updating their drug prices. There is no guarantee that the cheapest plan for your mother today would be the cheapest plan for your mother tomorrow. In fact, Consumers Union has tracked price differences in five large states and found continuous monthly changes. Sometimes these fluctuations are only a few dollars; sometimes more. Nearly 40 percent of the 225 plans underwent changes of more than 5 percent, which can add up to several hundred dollars per year.15 Frequent price changes are one more hurdle for Humans to jump, and in light of our experience, they can be a rude awakening to those who don’t know about them.
Random default plan assignment is a terrible idea. If a poor person is assigned to a bad plan and does not switch, her drug bills may rise, or she may decide to stop taking an expensive drug, as some already have. This may save the government money in the short run, but it will be costly in the long run, especially for diseases such as diabetes, for which a failure to keep on the drug regime can lead to numerous complications. The government also pays more if it assigns someone to one plan if a different plan covers all that person’s drugs and costs 15 percent less.
Maine is the only state that uses an intelligent assignment system for placing its dual eligibles in a prescription drug plan.18 Random assignment “resulted in a poor fit for many dual eligible beneficiaries in Maine,” according to a Government Accountability Office report.
Software and building engineers live by a time-honored slogan: keep it simple. And if a building has to be complicated to be functional, then it is best to offer plenty of signs to help people navigate.
As of January 2006 more than 90,000 Americans were on waiting lists for organs, mostly for kidneys. Many (possibly as many as 60 percent) will die while on the list, and the waiting list is growing at a rate of 12 percent per year.*
The primary sources of organs are patients who have been declared “brain dead,” meaning that they have suffered an irreversible loss of all brain function but are being maintained temporarily on ventilators. In the United States, roughly twelve thousand to fifteen thousand potential donors are in this category each year, but fewer than half become donors. Because each donor can be used for as many as three organs, getting another thousand donors could save as many as three thousand lives. The major obstacle to increasing donations is the need to get the consent of surviving family members. It turns out that good default rules can increase available organs and thus save lives.
we know something about how much the choice of the default matters in this domain. Using an online survey, the researchers asked people, in different ways, whether they would be willing to be donors. In the explicit consent condition, participants were told that they had just moved to a new state where the default was not to be an organ donor, and they were given the option of confirming or changing that status. In the presumed consent version, the wording was identical but the default was to be a donor. In the third, neutral, condition, there was no mention of a default—they just had to choose. Under all three conditions, the response was entered literally with one click. As you will now expect, the default mattered—a lot. When participants had to opt in to being an organ donor, only 42 percent did so. But when they had to opt out, 82 percent agreed to be donors. Surprisingly, almost as many people (79 percent) agreed to be donors in the neutral condition.
“The next of kin can be approached quite differently when the decedent’s silence is presumed to indicate a decision to donate rather than when it is presumed to indicate a decision not to donate. A system of presumed consent allows organ procurement organizations and hospital staff to approach the family as the family of a ‘donor’ rather than as the family of a ‘nondonor.’ This shift may make it easier for the family to accept organ donation.”5
The government should create a Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GGI), requiring disclosure by the most significant emitters. The GGI would permit people to see the various sources of greenhouse gases in the United States and to track changes over time. Seeing that list, states and localities could respond by considering legislative measures. In all likelihood, interested groups, including members of the media, would draw attention to the largest emitters. Because the climate change problem is salient, a Greenhouse Gas Inventory might well be expected to have the same beneficial effect as the Toxic Release Inventory. To be sure, an inventory of this kind might not produce massive changes on its own. But such a nudge would not be costly, and it would almost certainly help.
The most straightforward point is that if we can find ways to make energy use visible, we’ll nudge people toward reducing their energy use without mandating any such reductions.
To respect the liberty of religious groups while protecting individual freedom in general, we propose that marriage, as such, should be completely privatized. Under our proposal, the word marriage would no longer appear in any laws, and marriage licenses would no longer be offered or recognized by any level of government. The state would do its business, while religious organizations would do theirs. We would eliminate the ambiguity created by the fact that the word marriage now refers both to an official (legal) status and to a religious one.
The tax system offers big rewards to many couples as a result of marriage—at least if one spouse earns a great deal more than the other. (There can be a big marriage penalty if both spouses earn substantial incomes.)
Our basic claim here is that state-run marriage makes it impossible to protect the freedom of religious organizations to proceed as they see fit while also safeguarding the freedom of couples to make the commitments they seek without being treated as second-class citizens by the state. But we also believe that the official licensing system no longer fits modern reality. For one thing, the institution of state-run marriage has a highly discriminatory past, enmeshed as it has been in both sexual and racial inequality.
Insofar as it operated through government, the marital institution was originally a means of government licensing of both sexual activities and child rearing. If you wanted to have sex or to have children, you were in a much better position if you had a license from the state. In fact you might well have needed that license, no less than you now need a license to drive. A state license was a way of ensuring that sexual activity would not be a crime; and it was difficult to adopt children outside of the marital relationship. But official marriage no longer has this role. Indeed, people now have a constitutional right to have sexual relationships even if they are not married—and people become parents, including adoptive parents, without the benefit of marriage. Now that marriage is not a legal precondition for having either sex or children, the state’s licensing role seems less important.
Essentially, the self-serving bias means that in difficult or important negotiations, we tend to think that both the objectively “fair” outcome and the most likely outcome is the one that is skewed in our own favor.
Goolsbee estimates that this proposal would save taxpayers up to 225 million hours of tax preparation time and more than $2 billion a year in tax preparation fees. True, many people don’t trust the IRS, so here’s one way to assure them that our tax collectors are honest: if there’s an error, you get the money back, plus a bonus (say, $100). Automatic tax returns are already being used in other countries around the world. Denmark pioneered the pre-filled tax return idea the early 1980s, and the other Nordic countries soon followed. Finland Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen awarded his Tax Administration an award in 2006 for its automatic tax return program, with the prize jury praising it for having “significantly reduced the time taxpayers need to complete and file their returns … (and) substantially reduced the Tax Administration’s internal costs from processing return forms.”1 Today, pre-filled systems of varying levels have been adopted in Australia, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Chile, Portugal, Spain, and France, with the Netherlands planning to implement one in 2009.2 In Norway, taxpayers who want to alter their tax information can even request a change form through a text message.3
Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem for many girls, and those who have one child, at (say) eighteen, often become pregnant again within a year or two. Several cities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, have experimented with a “dollar a day” program, by which teenage girls with a baby receive a dollar for each day in which they are not pregnant.6 Thus far the results have been extremely promising. A dollar a day is a trivial cost to the city, even for a year or two, so the plan’s total cost is extremely low, but the small recurring payment is salient enough to encourage teenage mothers to take steps to avoid getting pregnant again. And because taxpayers end up paying a significant amount for many children born to teenagers, the costs appear to be far less than the benefits. Many people are touting “dollar a day” as a model program for helping reduce teenage pregnancies.
We propose a Civility Check that can accurately tell whether the email you’re about to send is angry and caution you, “WARNING: THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNCIVIL EMAIL. DO YOU REALLY AND TRULY WANT TO SEND IT?”
If you want people to lose weight, one effective strategy is to put mirrors in the cafeteria.
we endorse what the philosopher John Rawls (1971) called the publicity principle. In its simplest form, the publicity principle bans government from selecting a policy that it would not be able or willing to defend publicly to its own citizens. We like this principle on two grounds. The first is practical. If a government adopts a policy that it could not defend publicly, it stands to face considerable embarrassment, and perhaps much worse, if the policy and its grounds are disclosed. (Those who participated in, or sanctioned, the cruel and degrading actions in the Abu Ghraib prison might have benefited from using this principle.) The second and more important ground involves the idea of respect. The government should respect the people whom it governs, and if it adopts policies that it could not defend in public, it fails to manifest that respect. Instead, it treats its citizens as tools for its own manipulation.
If you want to increase the level of recycling, make it clear that other people are, in fact, recycling.
As Yale economist Robert Shiller has shown, the best explanation of the real estate bubble greatly overlaps with the best explanation of the stock market bubble of the late 1990s: In both cases, people were influenced by a process of social contagion. This belief produced wildly unrealistic projections, with palpable consequences for home purchases and mortgage choices.
Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.
Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!
Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.
I’ve seen many examples of sincere misalignment at Amazon over the years. When we decided to invite third party sellers to compete directly against us on our own product detail pages – that was a big one. Many smart, well-intentioned Amazonians were simply not at all aligned with the direction. The big decision set up hundreds of smaller decisions, many of which needed to be escalated to the senior team.
“You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.
If most of the inputs on a form are required, indicate the few that are optional. If most of the inputs on a form are optional, indicate the few that are required. When indicating what form fields are either required or optional, text is the most clear. However, the * symbol is relatively well understood to mean required.
Left-Aligned Labels When the data being collected by a form is unfamiliar or does not fall into easy-to-process groups (such as the various parts of an address), left-aligning input field labels makes scanning the information required by a form easier (see Figure 4-9 ). People can simply inspect the left column of labels up and down without
Some people will argue that a site’s Web forms should be consistent throughout, and therefore every required input field should be indicated as such, regardless of whether or not there are any optional input fields on the form. While this may be useful in forms that require several pages to complete, the variety of Web forms people encounter online makes it hard to imagine that they will remember a specific site’s system of indicating required input fields across the one to two forms they encounter.
In our testing, page-level selection performed averagely. It achieved average satisfaction scores, a relatively low number of errors, and faired well on eye-tracking measures like number of eye fixations, total length of fixations, and average fixation length. However, this solution had the second longest completion time of all the options we tested. So if you are looking for a safe solution with average performance, and quick completion times are not a concern, page-level selection-dependent inputs might be a good match.
The “expose within radio buttons” method also hid irrelevant form inputs from people until they needed them. This meant it was easy on the eyes and completed quite quickly. In fact, this was the fastest solution we tested and had the lowest number of average fixations.
similar concerns apply here as with the exposed below radio button solution. If the number of selection-dependent inputs is substantial, this method breaks down quickly. The combination of page jumping and the movement of the initial set of options as the elements between them are revealed and hidden makes for a disorientating interaction that frequently has people questioning which user interface element triggers which set of options.
Page-level selection-dependent inputs are probably your best bet when the number of additional options for each initial choice is large. Though you need two Web pages to break up the form, the dynamic hiding and showing of additional inputs won’t confuse people, and they won’t need to question whether or not their choices are mutually exclusive.
If you only have a few additional inputs for each initial option, exposed below radio buttons or exposed within radio buttons might be your best option. I’ve seen both of these options cause confusion with excessive page jumping and disassociation between initial choices, so tread carefully. But if you really only have 1–3 additional fields per initial choice, I’d go with exposed inline radio buttons. Just make sure you use clear visual associations and transitions, if possible.
Information architecture is the way that we arrange the parts of something to make it understandable.
causes for confusing information. Too much information Not enough information Not the right information Some combination of these (eek!)
The most important thing I can teach you about information is that it isn’t a thing. It’s subjective, not objective. It’s whatever a user interprets from the arrangement or sequence of things they encounter.
Knowing is not enough. Knowing too much can encourage us to procrastinate. There’s a certain point when continuing to know at the expense of doing allows the mess to grow further.
To start to identify the mess you’re facing, work through these questions: Users: Who are your intended users? What do you know about them? How can you get to know them better? How might they describe this mess? Stakeholders: Who are your stakeholders? What are their expectations? What are their thoughts about this mess? How might they describe it? Information: What interpretations are you dealing with? What information is being created through a lack of data or content? Current state: Are you dealing with too much information, not enough information, not the right information, or a combination of these?
When we don’t define what good means for our stakeholders and users, we aren’t using language to our advantage. Without a clear understanding of what is good, bad can come out of nowhere. And while you have to define what good means to create good information architecture, it’s not just the architecture part that needs this kind of focus. Every decision you make should support what you’ve defined as good: from the words you choose to the tasks you enable, and everything in between.
The following exercise will help you state your intent and clarify your language with other people. First, choose a set of adjectives you want your users to use to describe what you’re making. Then, choose a set of adjectives that you’re okay with not being used to describe the same thing.
When you discuss a specific subject, you subconsciously reference part of a large internal map of what you know. Other people can’t see this map. It only exists in your head, and it’s called your mental model. When faced with a problem, you reference your mental model and try to organize the aspects and complexities of what you see into recognizable patterns. Your ongoing experience changes your mental model.
Your diagram ultimately needs to be tidy enough for stakeholders to understand and comment on it, while being flexible enough to update.
People often get in their own way by becoming overwhelmed with choices, choosing not to choose instead. Others are limited by frustration over things they can’t change immediately or easily.
The way we choose to arrange a place changes how people intrepret and use it. We encode our intent through the clues we leave for users to know what we want them to do.
Imagine that on your first day at a new job every concept, process, and term you’re taught is labeled with nonsense jargon. Now imagine the same first day, only everything you’re shown has clear labels you can easily remember. Which second day would you want? We can be insecure or secure about the language we’re expected to use. We all prefer security.
When we decide that a word or concept holds a specific meaning in a specific context, we are practicing ontology.
Don’t “uh huh” your way through words you’ve never heard or don’t understand. Instead, untangle acronyms and unfamiliar phrases. If someone uses a different word than you do, ask for clarification. Why do they use that word? Get them to explain it. Complexity tends to hide in minutiae.
A goal is something specific that you want to do. A well-defined goal has the following elements: Intent: What are the specific results you want to see for your efforts? Baseline: What points of reference can you use to compare your progress with where you are today? Progress: How will you measure movement towards or away from your goal?
While I like the Atomic principles and I think about them when I’m writing front-end code, my preference is to stick with the word “component”. I find the Atomic terminology too rigid– it’s not always obvious whether one of these building blocks is an atom, molecule, or organism, and I don’t want to pass on this confusion to the client.
The term pattern library is sometimes used when discussing style guides. A style guide explains how things are going to look, whereas a pattern library tends to focus on how they are assembled. Style guides are a fantastic tool for designers, and pattern libraries are generally more useful for developers, but there will be some overlap. The term design system is frequently used as an overarching term covering core principles, language, design, and tools used to implement these. Its application may be similar to a component library, but with more emphasis on behaviour and interaction.
I often have ideas for pieces of a site in bursts. A full comp often requires ideas to be fully realized. An element collage allows me to document a thought at any state of realization and move on to the next.
Element collages are perfect for designers who aren’t yet comfortable putting their designs straight into code, but want to move away from full mock-ups. Both style tiles and element collages are intended as discussion pieces. There’s a sensible trend away from grand reveals towards experimentation and showing little and often.
In his article “Responsive Deliverables”, Dave Rupert suggests that customised, small, Bootstrap-like systems could become “self-documenting style guides that extend to accommodate a client’s needs as well as the needs of the ever-evolving multi-device web.”
Assess your style guide frequently, such as at the end of every sprint, testing in multiple browsers and devices as you build. Using tools like Ghostlab, Browsersync, and BrowserStack, you can check your style guide on multiple browsers and devices simultaneously. Run this testing throughout the build, otherwise it will become a source of stress right before a deadline. When you’re rapidly iterating, inconsistencies can creep in. Having all your modules in one place during code review helps keep track of what’s new, what’s a duplicate, and what’s not being used.
Installing a browser plugin such as total11y allows you to review common accessibility issues like colour contrast.
Since performance in this project was critical, Dan and Tim thought about performance from the beginning and let it influence their design decisions. Tim even created a Grunt task to measure how fast each pattern was loading. Lonely Planet also think a lot about performance. Each JS and CSS file has performance statistics logged in the style guide, and changes to these statistics are highlighted and plotted on a graph.
Every time you build a new but commonly used feature, such as an image with a caption or pagination controls, remember to pull the module into your style guide. That way, you can use the style guide as a prototyping tool, slotting modules together to test new ideas. By using real code rather than a design tool, you’ll be able to see exactly what a new feature will look like on different devices, and how it will work alongside existing components.
Front-end style guides are also invaluable as a way of delivering work, especially in Agile projects where different parts of a website may be completed at different times. Rather than getting feedback on a whole system at once, you can deliver parts of it, and really focus that feedback on the individual components.
People will resist adopting a process they don’t feel a part of. Get team members involved in planning and building the style guide right from the start so they are more likely to want to maintain it.
One way to make sure your style guide is kept up to date is to appoint someone on the team as an evangelist: someone who keeps it in check, and makes sure new patterns are always added.
Only add components that are needed. MailChimp only add new patterns when there’s a sound case for doing so, because new patterns come at a high cost in terms of additional code, maintenance, and increased cognitive load on users. MailChimp know that the more they add to their style guide, the more features they have to support and the more complex the style guide (and the site) gets.
Aim to make all your components self-contained so if the component becomes obsolete, you can remove it without breaking something else. If you’re using Sass or Less, these files should have the same name as pattern files so they’re easier to find, and so you can see that the matching files are related.
A week after the US Web Design standards went live, Maya Benari tweeted that they’d merged nine pull requests from people outside government.
GEL is packed with insights. Since the BBC has a massive audience, its design teams spend a lot of time thinking about and researching design for diverse environments.
Dan Mall proposes baking in time after the project to revisit the style guides he delivers to clients. This is brave, because it admits the system is not going to be perfect at first. Dan uses this extra time to see what’s working, what’s not working, and how the style guide can be improved, making tweaks based on this feedback.
A style guide isn’t a silver bullet – it needs good practices, care, and attention. Its success should be measured not by how good it is when it launches, but by whether it is kept up to date and referred to months, even years, later.
According to the research,* commuting is associated with an increased risk of obesity, insomnia, stress, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, and other stress-related ills such as heart attacks and depression, and even divorce.
At the IT Collective, a film production and video marketing firm based in Colorado (but with people in New York and Sydney too), the team of editors will occasionally switch to nocturnal mode when working on a new film. It’s simply how they get their best work done. The next day the editors will overlap with the rest of the team just long enough to review progress and get direction for the next night. Who cares if they slept way past noon to make that schedule work?
Through its telework strategy, since 1995, IBM has reduced office space by a total of 78 million square feet. Of that, 58 million square feet was sold at a gain of $ 1.9B. And sublease income for leased space not needed exceeded $ 1B. In the U.S., continuing annual savings amounts to $ 100M, and at least that much in Europe. With 386,000 employees, 40 percent of whom telework, the ratio of office space to employee is now 8: 1 with some facilities as high as 15: 1.
Only about three times a year does the whole company get together in the Chicago office.
By rationing in-person meetings, their stature is elevated to that of a rare treat. They become something to be savored, something special. Dine out every once in a while on those feasts and sustain yourself in the interim on the conversation “snacks” that technology makes possible.
If people really want to play video games or surf the web all day, they’re perfectly capable of doing so from their desks at the office. In fact, lots of studies have shown that many people do exactly that. For example, at clothing retailer J.C. Penney’s headquarters, 4,800 workers spend 30 percent of the company’s Internet bandwidth watching YouTube videos.* So, coming into the office just means that people have to put on pants. There’s no guarantee of productivity.
the number one counter to distractions is interesting, fulfilling work.
You certainly don’t need everyone physically together to create a strong culture. The best cultures derive from actions people actually take, not the ones they write about in a mission statement. Newcomers to an organization arrive with their eyes open. They see how decisions are made, the care that’s taken, the way problems are fixed, and so forth. If anything, having people work remotely forces you to forgo the illusion that building a company culture is just about in-person social activities. Now you can get on with the actual work of defining and practicing it instead.
Questions you can wait hours to learn the answers to are fine to put in an email. Questions that require answers in the next few minutes can go into an instant message. For crises that truly merit a sky-is-falling designation, you can use that old-fashioned invention called the telephone.
Eighty-five percent of the examiners of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 57 percent of NASA’s workers, and 67 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s employees report that they work remotely to some extent.
At 37signals, we’ve found that we need a good four hours of overlap to avoid collaboration delays and feel like a team.
Use a shared screen to collaborate on everything from walking through a presentation, to going over the latest website changes, to sketching together in Photoshop, to just editing a simple text document together. Before you know it, you’ll be so used to sharing a screen that starting a call without one will feel pointless. Much of the magic that people ascribe to sitting together in a room is really just this: being able to see and interact with the same stuff.
When someone wants to demonstrate a new feature they’re working on at 37signals, often the easiest way is to record a screencast and narrate the experience. A screencast is basically just a recording of your screen that others can play back later as a movie. It can be used in several ways, including for presenting the latest sales figures or elaborating on a new marketing strategy.
avoid locking up important stuff in a single person’s computer or inbox. Put all the important stuff out in the open, and no one will have to chase that wild goose to get their work done.
To instill a sense of company cohesion and to share forward motion, everyone needs to feel that they’re in the loop. At 37signals we’ve institutionalized this through a weekly discussion thread with the subject “What have you been working on?” Everyone chimes in with a few lines about what they’ve done over the past week and what’s intended for the next week. It’s not a precise, rigorous estimation process, and it doesn’t attempt to deal with coordination. It simply aims to make everyone feel like they’re in the same galley and not their own little rowboat.
American Fidelity Assurance (AFA) cited the ability to continue helping customers even during disasters as a key reason they’re sticking with remote work. When they needed to close their headquarters in Oklahoma City for inclement weather, their remote workers all worked from home and customers never knew the difference.
When meetings are the norm, the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem, they become overused and we grow numb to the outcome. Meetings should be like salt—sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings can destroy morale and motivation.
At Accenture, where 81 percent of employees work remotely to some extent, they even have an internal process for this called “Ergonomics for Professionals” to ensure employees get it right. The company offers a list of equipment that’s been picked for ergonomic comfort. It also offers the support of a certified ergonomics expert (an actual doctor!) who can work with people to find the best setup.
be very available. Since you can’t meet face-to-face, you better return phone calls, emails, instant messages, etc. This is basic business stuff, but it’s tenfold more important when you’re working remotely. It may be irrational but, if you’re local, the client often feels that, if worse comes to worst, they can knock on your door. They “know where you live.” But when you’re remote, they’re going to be more suspicious when phone calls go unreturned or emails keep getting “lost.” Stay on top of communications and you’ll reap the benefits.
Cultures grow over time, and it’ll be a lot easier if your culture grows up with remote workers.
At 37signals, we meet up at least twice a year for four to five days. Part of the reason is to talk shop, present the latest projects, and decide the future direction of the company. But the bigger deal is to put moving faces with screen names, and to do it with enough regularity that we don’t forget each other’s in-person personalities.
Much of open source is coordinated on mailing lists and code tracking systems like GitHub. Anyone who’s interested in helping out can because the information is all out in the open. You can self-select into participating, and the people with the most knowledge about an issue thus get easy access.
Most successful open source projects eventually grow to the point where they can support their own conferences or, at least, sessions at general ones. This gives contributors a chance to meet in person to top off on social interaction—much like meetups and sprints do for companies. But it’s not a requirement, it’s a nice-to-have.
When most conversations happen virtually—on the phone, via email, in Basecamp, over instant message, or in a Skype video chat—people actually look forward to these special opportunities for a face-to-face. The scarcity of such face time in remote working situations makes it seem that much more valuable. And as a result, something interesting happens: people don’t waste the time. An awareness of scarcity makes them use it wisely.
Jason usually spends the mornings at home, then heads into the office around 11. That doesn’t mean he starts work at 11. He starts around 7: 30 or 8am. But he uses the morning to catch up on things that require zero office distractions, and then heads into the office for more collaborative work in the afternoon.
for many, the hybrid approach is the right place to start. If you still want people in the office every day, change that requirement to every afternoon instead. Then let your troops have their mornings to themselves. You may be surprised to find out more work gets done this way.
It sounds counterintuitive, but the presence of other people, even if you don’t know them, can fool your mind into thinking that being productive is the only proper thing to do.
At 37signals, we let employees who’ve worked with the company three years or more take a monthlong sabbatical if they feel like it. Sure, this won’t work for every company, but if you have the slack and can handle it, it’s a great way to give the employees who need a real break (not just a quick vacation) time away to focus on themselves, or their families, or whatever it is that might be keeping them from feeling fully motivated at work.
Mig, one of our designers at 37signals, uses his freedom to full advantage. Mig works in Chicago, but only comes into the office a few times a week, typically in the afternoon. His mornings are spent at different coffee shops around the city. The change of scenery, change of crowd, change of neighborhood, and change of menu helps him see similar things in new ways. He strongly believes that this variety translates to his work. More perspectives on the same problem is a good thing.
There are two fundamental ways not to be ignored at work. One is to make noise. The other is to make progress, to do exceptional work. Fortunately for remote workers, “the work” is the measure that matters.
Gutenberg’s printing press would not have been invented if it weren’t for the work already done in creating the screw press used for winemaking. Technologies aren’t created in isolation. They are imprinted with the ghosts of their past.
The layout of the QWERTY keyboard for your computer— and its software equivalent on your phone— is an echo of the design of the first generation of typewriters. That arrangement of keys was chosen to reduce the chances of mechanical pieces of metal clashing as they sprang forward to leave their mark on the paper.
The hands on a clock face move in a clockwise direction only because that’s the direction that the shadow cast by a sundial moves over the course of a day in the northern hemisphere. Had history turned out differently, with the civilisation of the southern hemisphere in the ascendent, then the hands on our clocks would today move in the opposite direction.
The reason why floppy disks wound up being 3 ½ inches in size is because the disk was designed to fit into a shirt pocket. The icons in our software interfaces are whispering stories to us from the history of clothing and fashion.
The world of architecture has accrued its own set of design values over the years. One of those values is the principle of material honesty. One material should not be used as a substitute for another. Otherwise the end result is deceptive. Using TABLEs for layout is materially dishonest.
Each new medium begins its life by imitating its predecessors. Many early movies were like filmed stage plays; much early television was like radio with pictures or reduced movies.
John Culkin put it, “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”
In his book Where Good Ideas Come From, he explores an idea called “the adjacent possible”: At every moment in the timeline of an expanding biosphere, there are doors that cannot be unlocked yet. In human culture, we like to think of breakthrough ideas as sudden accelerations on the timeline, where a genius jumps ahead fifty years and invents something that normal minds, trapped in the present moment, couldn’t possibly have come up with. But the truth is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible; the history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.
Design layouts and systems that can cope to whatever environment they may find themselves in. But the only way we can do any of this is to shed ways of thinking that have been shackles around our necks. They’re holding us back. Start designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in. This content-out way of thinking is fundamentally different to the canvas-in approach that dates all the way back to the Book of Kells. It asks web designers to give up the illusion of control and create a materially-honest discipline for the World Wide Web.
Robustness Principle, also known as Postel’s Law: Be conservative in what you send; be liberal in what you accept.
That’s a pattern that repeats again and again: a solution is created in an imperative language and if it’s popular enough, it migrates to a declarative language over time. When a feature is available in a declarative language, not only is it easier to write, it’s also more robust.
In his classic book How Buildings Learn Stewart Brand highlights an idea by the British architect Frank Duffy: A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity. Duffy called these shearing layers. Each of the layers moves at a different timescale. Brand expanded on the idea, proposing six alliterative layers: Site— the physical location of a building only changes on a geological timescale. Structure— the building itself can last for centuries. Skin— the exterior surface gets a facelift or a new lick of paint every few decades. Services— the plumbing and wiring need to be updated every ten years or so. Space plan— the layout of walls and doors might change occasionally. Stuff— the arrangement of furniture in a room can change on a daily basis.
Decisions made in haste at the beginning of a project lead to a cascade of issues further down the line.
Carl Sagan put it best in his book The Demon-Haunted World: It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
The earliest cars and components were individually crafted, which led to many safety and maintainability nightmares. Ford broke the automobile down into its component parts and modularized the assembly process. The results spoke for themselves: more uniform, more reliable, safer cars rolled out of the factory, and in record time to boot.
Atmosphere describes the feelings we get that are evoked by colour, texture and typography. You might already think of atmosphere in different terms. You might call it “feel”, “mood” or even “visual identity.” Whatever words you choose, the atmosphere of a design doesn’t depend on layout. It’s independent of arrangement and visual placement. It will be seen, or felt, at every screen size and on every device. Andy Clarke
At some point, a threshold is crossed where the initial benefits of using a framework–namely development speed–are outweighed by the time spent modifying, extending, and fixing the framework.
At some point, a threshold is crossed where the initial benefits of using a framework– namely development speed– are outweighed by the time spent modifying, extending, and fixing the framework.
I recently visited my health insurance provider’s website to pay my bill. In the course of five clicks, I was hit with four distinct interface designs, some of which looked like they were last touched in 1999. This inconsistent experience put the burden on me, the user, to figure out what went where and how to interpret disparate interface elements. By the time I got to the payment form, I felt like I couldn’t trust the company to successfully and securely process my payment. Style guides help iron out these inconsistencies by encouraging reuse of interface elements. Designers and developers can refer back to existing patterns to ensure the work they’re producing is consistent with what’s already been established.
Style guides establish a consistent, shared vocabulary between everyone involved in a project, encouraging collaboration between disciplines and reducing communication breakdowns.
Style guides demonstrate to clients, stakeholders, and other disciplines that there’s a lot of really thoughtful work going into a website’s design and development beyond just “Hey, let’s make a new website.” A pattern library communicates the design language in a very tangible way, which helps stakeholders understand that an underlying system is determining the final interface. Style guides can help alleviate what I call special snowflake syndrome, where certain departments in an organization think that they have unique problems and therefore demand unique solutions. By exposing the design system in the form of a style guide, these special snowflakes can better appreciate consistency and understand why their requests for custom designs receive pushback.
designers and developers are forced to think about how their decisions affect the broader design system. It becomes harder to go rogue and easier to think of the greater good.
The five stages of atomic design are: Atoms Molecules Organisms Templates Pages
atoms of our interfaces serve as the foundational building blocks that comprise all our user interfaces. These atoms include basic HTML elements like form labels, inputs, buttons, and others that can’t be broken down any further without ceasing to be functional.
In the context of a pattern library, atoms demonstrate all your base styles at a glance, which can be a helpful reference to keep coming back to as you develop and maintain your design system.
molecules are relatively simple groups of UI elements functioning together as a unit. For example, a form label, search input, and button can join together to create a search form molecule.
Creating simple components helps UI designers and developers adhere to the single responsibility principle, an age-old computer science precept that encourages a “do one thing and do it well” mentality. Burdening a single pattern with too much complexity makes software unwieldy. Therefore, creating simple UI molecules makes testing easier, encourages reusability, and promotes consistency throughout the interface.
Organisms are relatively complex UI components composed of groups of molecules and/ or atoms and/ or other organisms. These organisms form distinct sections of an interface.
Organisms are relatively complex UI components composed of groups of molecules and/or atoms and/or other organisms. These organisms form distinct sections of an interface.
Organisms like website headers consist of smaller molecules like primary navigation, search forms, utility navigation, and logos.
Templates are page-level objects that place components into a layout and articulate the design’s underlying content structure.
This homepage template displays all the necessary page components functioning together, which provides context for these relatively abstract molecules and organisms. When crafting an effective design system, it’s critical to demonstrate how components look and function together in the context of a layout to prove the parts add up to a well-functioning whole.
Pages are specific instances of templates that show what a UI looks like with real representative content in place.
Pages also provide a place to articulate variations in templates, which is crucial for establishing robust and reliant design systems.
To sum up atomic design in a nutshell: Atoms are UI elements that can’t be broken down any further and serve as the elemental building blocks of an interface. Molecules are collections of atoms that form relatively simple UI components. Organisms are relatively complex components that form discrete sections of an interface. Templates place components within a layout and demonstrate the design’s underlying content structure. Pages apply real content to templates and articulate variations to demonstrate the final UI and test the resilience of the design system.
In his book The Shape of Design, Frank Chimero beautifully articulates the power this traversal provides: The painter, when at a distance from the easel, can assess and analyze the whole of the work from this vantage. He scrutinizes and listens, chooses the next stroke to make, then approaches the canvas to do it. Then, he steps back again to see what he’s done in relation to the whole. It is a dance of switching contexts, a pitter-patter pacing across the studio floor that produces a tight feedback loop between mark-making and mark-assessing. Frank Chimero Atomic design lets us dance between contexts like the painter Frank so eloquently describes. The atoms, molecules, and organisms that comprise our interfaces do not live in a vacuum. And our interfaces’ templates and pages are indeed composed of smaller parts. The parts of our designs influence the whole, and the whole influences the parts. The two are intertwined, and atomic design embraces this fact.
In his book The Shape of Design, Frank Chimero beautifully articulates the power this traversal provides: The painter, when at a distance from the easel, can assess and analyze the whole of the work from this vantage. He scrutinizes and listens, chooses the next stroke to make, then approaches the canvas to do it. Then, he steps back again to see what he’s done in relation to the whole. It is a dance of switching contexts, a pitter-patter pacing across the studio floor that produces a tight feedback loop between mark-making and mark-assessing. Frank Chimero Atomic design lets us dance between contexts like the painter Frank so eloquently describes. The atoms, molecules, and organisms that comprise our interfaces do not live in a vacuum. And our interfaces’ templates and pages are indeed composed of smaller parts. The parts of our designs influence the whole, and the whole influences the parts. The two are intertwined, and atomic design embraces this fact.
don’t interpret the five stages of atomic design as “Step 1: atoms; Step 2: molecules; Step 3: organisms; Step 4: templates; Step 5: pages.” Instead, think of the stages of atomic design as a mental model that allows us to concurrently create final UIs and their underlying design systems.
Mark Boulton explains: Content needs to be structured and structuring alters your content, designing alters content. It’s not ‘content then design’, or ‘content or design’. It’s ‘content and design’.
The issue with terms like components and modules is that a sense of hierarchy can’t be deduced from the names alone. Atoms, molecules, and organisms imply a hierarchy that anyone with a basic knowledge of chemistry can hopefully wrap their head around.
Effective pattern libraries carve out a space to define and describe UI components, articulating considerations ranging from accessibility to performance to aesthetics and beyond.
The design process is weird and complicated, because people are weird and complicated. Mark Boulton
design systems promote consistency and cohesion, speed up your team’s productivity, establish a more collaborative workflow, establish a shared vocabulary, provide helpful documentation, make testing easier, and serve as a future-friendly foundation.
design systems promote consistency and cohesion , speed up your team’s productivity, establish a more collaborative workflow, establish a shared vocabulary, provide helpful documentation, make testing easier, and serve as a future-friendly foundation.
One of the most powerful benefits of interface inventories is that you can show them to anyone, including non-designers and developers, and they’ll understand why inconsistent UIs are problematic. You don’t need to be a designer to recognize that having 37 unique button styles probably isn’t a good idea .
One of the most powerful benefits of interface inventories is that you can show them to anyone, including non-designers and developers, and they’ll understand why inconsistent UIs are problematic. You don’t need to be a designer to recognize that having 37 unique button styles probably isn’t a good idea.
It’s ludicrous for anyone to utter the phrase, “This is how we’ve always done things” in an industry that’s only 25 years old.
Rather than jumping straight into such high-fidelity documents, it’s better to start with lo-fi sketches that establish what appears on a particular screen and in what general order. Establishing the experience’s basic information architecture can be accomplished with a simple bulleted list and a conversation.
Making lo-fi wireframes mobile-first means using the constraints of small screens to force the team to focus on the core content and hierarchy. You can now ask, “Do we have the right things on this screen?” “Are they in the right general order?”
Making lo-fi wireframes mobile-first means using the constraints of small screens to force the team to focus on the core content and hierarchy. You can now ask, “Do we have the right things on this screen?”“Are they in the right general order?”
With a few simple spreadsheet columns, we can articulate which display patterns should be included in a given template, and what content patterns they’ll contain. More importantly, we’re able to articulate each pattern’s relative hierarchy and the role it plays on the screen. If you read the leftmost column vertically, you’re effectively looking at the mobile-first view of what the UI could be.
A fantastic exercise for quickly establishing aesthetic values is the 20-second gut test. Typically done as part of the project kick-off meeting, the exercise involves showing the stakeholders a handful of pertinent websites (about twenty to thirty of them) for twenty seconds each. The sites you choose should be a healthy blend of industry-specific sites and other visually interesting sites from other industries. For added believability, you can photoshop in your client’s logo in place of the site’s actual logo. For each site presented, each person votes on a scale from 1 to 10, where a score of 1 means “If this were our site I would quit my job and cry myself to sleep,”while a score of 10 means “If this were our site I would be absolutely ecstatic!”Instruct participants to consider visual properties they find interesting, such as typography, color, density, layout, illustration style, and general vibe.
A fantastic exercise for quickly establishing aesthetic values is the 20-second gut test. Typically done as part of the project kick-off meeting, the exercise involves showing the stakeholders a handful of pertinent websites (about twenty to thirty of them) for twenty seconds each. The sites you choose should be a healthy blend of industry-specific sites and other visually interesting sites from other industries. For added believability, you can photoshop in your client’s logo in place of the site’s actual logo. For each site presented, each person votes on a scale from 1 to 10, where a score of 1 means “If this were our site I would quit my job and cry myself to sleep,” while a score of 10 means “If this were our site I would be absolutely ecstatic!” Instruct participants to consider visual properties they find interesting, such as typography, color, density, layout, illustration style, and general vibe.
This exercise exposes stakeholders to a variety of aesthetic directions early in the process, allows them to work through differences in taste, and (with any luck) helps arrive at some shared aesthetic values.
Style tiles (along with their in-browser counterparts, style prototypes) allow designers to explore color, typography, texture, icons, and other aspects of design atmosphere without making assumptions about layout or worrying about polish. They can be designed much faster because they’re not encumbered by the expectations of high-fidelity comps, which means feedback and discussion can happen sooner. Style tiles facilitate conversation to uncover what stakeholders value and what they don’t. “Does this style tile resonate better with you rather than this one? Why?”“Why does this color palette not sit well with you?”“What is it about this typeface you like?”You can have important conversations about aesthetic design without having to create full comps. Crucially, style tiles also reinforce pattern-based thinking by educating stakeholders about design systems rather than pages. Presenting color swatches, type examples, and textures exposes stakeholders to the ingredients that will underpin any implementation of the design system.
Style tiles (along with their in-browser counterparts, style prototypes) allow designers to explore color, typography, texture, icons, and other aspects of design atmosphere without making assumptions about layout or worrying about polish. They can be designed much faster because they’re not encumbered by the expectations of high-fidelity comps, which means feedback and discussion can happen sooner. Style tiles facilitate conversation to uncover what stakeholders value and what they don’t. “Does this style tile resonate better with you rather than this one? Why?” “Why does this color palette not sit well with you?” “What is it about this typeface you like?” You can have important conversations about aesthetic design without having to create full comps. Crucially, style tiles also reinforce pattern-based thinking by educating stakeholders about design systems rather than pages. Presenting color swatches, type examples, and textures exposes stakeholders to the ingredients that will underpin any implementation of the design system.
Somewhere in between style tiles and full comps live element collages, which are collections of UI component design explorations. Element collages provide a playground for designers to apply design atmosphere to actual interface elements, yet still be free from layout and highly polished presentation.
Somewhere in between style tiles and full comps live element collages , which are collections of UI component design explorations. Element collages provide a playground for designers to apply design atmosphere to actual interface elements, yet still be free from layout and highly polished presentation.
Front-end developers need to be the prep chefs of the web design process.
front-end prep chef work frees up developers’ time to collaborate with designers, rather than working after design is complete. With basic markup in place, developers can work with designers to help validate UX design decisions through conversations and working prototypes. They can help visual designers better understand source order and web layout, and can quickly produce a fledgling codebase that will eventually evolve into the final product.
Let’s quickly review what establishing design direction looks like across disciplines: UX designers can create lo-fi sketches to establish basic information architecture and some anticipated UI patterns. Visual designers can gather the teams’aesthetic values by conducting a 20-second gut test exercise, then create style tiles and element collages to explore initial design directions. Frontend developers can set up project dependencies, stub out basic templates, and write structural markup for patterns the team anticipates using in the project. This work can happen concurrently but shouldn’t happen in isolation. Sure, there will need to be some initial head-down time for each discipline to get set up, but all team members should be fully aware of each discipline’s explorations in anticipation of working together to evolve these ideas.
Let’s quickly review what establishing design direction looks like across disciplines: UX designers can create lo-fi sketches to establish basic information architecture and some anticipated UI patterns. Visual designers can gather the teams’ aesthetic values by conducting a 20-second gut test exercise, then create style tiles and element collages to explore initial design directions. Frontend developers can set up project dependencies, stub out basic templates, and write structural markup for patterns the team anticipates using in the project. This work can happen concurrently but shouldn’t happen in isolation. Sure, there will need to be some initial head-down time for each discipline to get set up, but all team members should be fully aware of each discipline’s explorations in anticipation of working together to evolve these ideas.
Seeing these partially designed prototypes might look unusual to those used to more traditional, pixel-perfect design deliverables. But it’s far more important to communicate progress than a false sense of perfection, which is why rolling updates are preferable to big reveals.
Seeing these partially designed prototypes might look unusual to those used to more traditional , pixel-perfect design deliverables. But it’s far more important to communicate progress than a false sense of perfection, which is why rolling updates are preferable to big reveals.
For the TechCrunch project, we created a comp for the article template only after the client was feeling good about our element collage explorations. Creating full comps requires a lot of effort, which is why we established the design direction first to mitigate the risk of all that full-comp effort going straight into the trash if we got it totally wrong.
Working in the browser allows teams to address layout issues across the entire resolution spectrum, design around dynamic data (such as variable character lengths, image sizes, and other dynamic content), demonstrate interaction and animation, gauge performance, factor in ergonomics, and confront technical considerations (such as pixel density, text rendering, scrolling performance, and browser quirks). Static design comps cannot deal with all these considerations, so they should be treated merely as hypotheses rather than set-in-stone specifications. Only when transferred to the browser can any design hypothesis truly be confirmed or rejected.
This “design system first” mentality inserts a bit of friction into the maintenance process, and that friction can be friendly. It forces us to step back and consider how any improvements, client requests, feature additions, and iterations affect the overall system rather than only a sliver of the whole ecosystem.
The vastness and decentralized nature of the organization means that a synchronized pattern library isn’t really achievable without some dramatic restructuring of how federal government websites get built. If a relatively scattered, decentralized culture is your reality, don’t be disheartened! Even getting some design system in place –a handful of go-to UI patterns, some helpful documentation, and guiding principles –can show your organization the light that points towards the grail.
The vastness and decentralized nature of the organization means that a synchronized pattern library isn’t really achievable without some dramatic restructuring of how federal government websites get built. If a relatively scattered, decentralized culture is your reality, don’t be disheartened! Even getting some design system in place – a handful of go-to UI patterns, some helpful documentation, and guiding principles – can show your organization the light that points towards the grail.
Evangelizing your design system efforts can and should happen even before the system is off the ground. At the onset of your project, you can set up places to document progress of the project to help garner awareness and excitement for the design system effort. One client of mine set up an internal blog to publish updates to the project, as well as a design system Yammer channel where developers and other interested parties can share ideas, address concerns, give feedback, and ask questions. Establishing a culture of communication early in the process will increase the likelihood of the design system taking root.
A great way of injecting your design system into your company culture is to bake design system training right into the onboarding process for new employees. New colleagues will understand the importance of modularity, reuse, and all the other benefits a design system brings.
Publishing your style guide for the world to see increases its visibility, increases accountability, and serves as an amazing recruitment tool.
Another needless source of question marks over people’s heads is links and buttons that aren’t obviously clickable. As a user, I should never have to devote a millisecond of thought to whether things are clickable—or not.
every question mark adds to our cognitive workload, distracting our attention from the task at hand. The distractions may be slight but they add up, especially if it’s something we do all the time like deciding what to click on. And as a rule, people don’t like to puzzle over how to do things.
We’re thinking “great literature” (or at least “product brochure”), while the user’s reality is much closer to “billboard going by at 60 miles an hour.”
When we’re designing pages, we tend to assume that users will scan the page, consider all of the available options, and choose the best one. In reality, though, most of the time we don’t choose the best option—we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing.1 As soon as we find a link that seems like it might lead to what we’re looking for, there’s a very good chance that we’ll click it.
One problem with conventions, though: Designers are often reluctant to take advantage of them. Faced with the prospect of following a convention, there’s a great temptation for designers to try reinventing the wheel instead, largely because they feel (not incorrectly) that they’ve been hired to do something new and different, not the same old thing. Not to mention the fact that praise from peers, awards, and high-profile job offers are rarely based on criteria like “best use of conventions.”
Occasionally, time spent reinventing the wheel results in a revolutionary new rolling device. But usually it just amounts to time spent reinventing the wheel.
If you’re not going to use an existing Web convention, you need to be sure that what you’re replacing it with either (a) is so clear and self-explanatory that there’s no learning curve—so it’s as good as the convention, or (b) adds so much value that it’s worth a small learning curve. My recommendation: Innovate when you know you have a better idea, but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.
CLARITY TRUMPS CONSISTENCY If you can make something significantly clearer by making it slightly inconsistent, choose in favor of clarity.
The truth is, everything can’t be important. Shouting is usually the result of a failure to make tough decisions about which elements are really the most important and then create a visual hierarchy that guides users to them first.
If you really want to learn about making content scannable (or about anything related to writing for screens in general), run, do not walk, to an Internet-connected device and order Ginny Redish’s book Letting Go of the Words.
I think it’s safe to say that users don’t mind a lot of clicks as long as each click is painless and they have continued confidence that they’re on the right track—following what’s often called the “scent of information.”1 Links that clearly and unambiguously identify their target give off a strong scent that assures users that clicking them will bring them nearer to their “prey.” Ambiguous or poorly worded links do not.
E. B. White’s seventeenth rule in The Elements of Style: 17. Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.1
Some people (Jakob Nielsen calls them “search-dominant” users) will almost always look for a search box as soon as they enter a site. (These may be the same people who look for the nearest clerk as soon as they enter a store.) Other people (Nielsen’s “link-dominant” users) will almost always browse first, searching only when they’ve run out of likely links to click or when they have gotten sufficiently frustrated by the site. For everyone else, the decision whether to start by browsing or searching depends on their current frame of mind, how much of a hurry they’re in, and whether the site appears to have decent browsable navigation.
On pages where a form needs to be filled in, the persistent navigation can sometimes be an unnecessary distraction. For instance, when I’m paying for my purchases on an e-commerce site, you don’t really want me to do anything but finish filling in the forms. The same is true when I’m registering, subscribing, giving feedback, or checking off personalization preferences. For these pages, it’s useful to have a minimal version of the persistent navigation with just the Site ID, a link to Home, and any Utilities that might help me fill out the form.
the Home page is the waterfront property of the Web: It’s the most desirable real estate, and there’s a very limited supply. Everybody who has a stake in the site wants a promo or a link to their section on the Home page, and the turf battles for Home page visibility can be fierce. Sometimes when I look at a Home page, I feel like the boy in The Sixth Sense: “I see stakeholders.”
The one thing you can’t afford to lose in the shuffle—and the thing that most often gets lost—is conveying the big picture. Whenever someone hands me a Home page design to look at, there’s one thing I can almost always count on: They haven’t made it clear enough what the site is.
We know now from a very elegant experiment (search for “Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!”) that a lot happens as soon as you open a page. For instance, you take a quick look around (in milliseconds) and form a number of general impressions: Does it look good? Is there a lot of content or a little? Are there clear regions of the page? Which ones attract you? The most interesting thing about the experiment was that they showed that these initial impressions tended to be very similar to the impressions people had after they actually had a chance to spend time on the page. In other words, we make snap judgments, but they tend to be a pretty reliable predictor of our more reasoned assessments.
one of the things I’ve seen most often in usability tests is that people form ideas about what things are and how they work which are just wrong. Then they use these first bits of “knowledge” to help interpret everything they see. If their first assumptions are wrong (“This is a site for __”), they begin to try to force-fit that explanation on to everything they encounter. And if it’s wrong, they’ll end up creating more misinterpretations. If people are lost when they start out, they usually just keep getting…loster. This is why it’s so crucial that you get them off on the right foot, making sure that they’re clear on the big picture.
All the stakeholders need to be educated about the danger of overgrazing the Home page and offered other methods of driving traffic, like cross-promoting from other popular pages or taking turns using the same space on the Home page.
I usually call these endless discussions “religious debates,” because they have a lot in common with most discussions of religion and politics: They consist largely of people expressing strongly held personal beliefs about things that can’t be proven—supposedly in the interest of agreeing on the best way to do something important (whether it’s attaining eternal peace, governing effectively, or just designing Web pages). And, like most religious debates, they rarely result in anyone involved changing his or her point of view. Besides wasting time, these arguments create tension and erode respect among team members and can often prevent the team from making critical decisions.
While the hype culture (upper management, marketing, and business development) is focused on making whatever promises are necessary to attract venture capital, revenue-generating deals, and users to the site, the burden of delivering on those promises lands on the shoulders of the craft culture artisans like the designers and developers. This modern high-tech version of the perennial struggle between art and commerce (or perhaps farmers and cowmen vs. the railroad barons) adds another level of complexity to any discussions of usability issues—often in the form of apparently arbitrary edicts handed down from the hype side of the fence.3
Where debates about what people like waste time and drain the team’s energy, usability testing tends to defuse most arguments and break impasses by moving the discussion away from the realm of what’s right or wrong and what people like or dislike and into the realm of what works or doesn’t work. And by opening our eyes to just how varied users’ motivations, perceptions, and responses are, testing makes it hard to keep thinking that all users are like us.
while usability testing will sometimes settle these arguments, the main thing it usually ends up doing is revealing that the things they were arguing about weren’t all that important. People often test to decide which color drapes are best, only to learn that they forgot to put windows in the room. For instance, they might discover that it doesn’t make much difference whether you go with cascading menus or mega menus if nobody understands the value proposition of your site.
Focus groups can be great for determining what your audience wants, needs, and likes—in the abstract. They’re good for testing whether the idea behind your site makes sense and your value proposition is attractive, to learn more about how people currently solve the problems your site will help them with, and to find out how they feel about you and your competitors. But they’re not good for learning about whether your site works and how to improve it. The kinds of things you learn from focus groups—like whether you’re building the right product—are things you should know before you begin designing or building anything, so focus groups are best used in the planning stages of a project. Usability tests, on the other hand, should be used through the entire process.
testing is really more like having friends visiting from out of town. Inevitably, as you make the rounds of the local tourist sites with them, you see things about your hometown that you usually don’t notice because you’re so used to them. And at the same time, you realize that a lot of things that you take for granted aren’t obvious to everybody.
The purpose of this kind of testing isn’t to prove anything. Proving things requires quantitative testing, with a large sample size, a clearly defined and rigorously followed test protocol, and lots of data gathering and analysis. Do-it-yourself tests are a qualitative method whose purpose is to improve what you’re building by identifying and fixing usability problems. The process isn’t rigorous at all: You give them tasks to do, you observe, and you learn. The result is actionable insights, not proof.
Experts are rarely insulted by something that is clear enough for beginners. Everybody appreciates clarity.
If you’re redesigning an existing site, you’ll also want to test it before you start, so you’ll know what’s not working (and needs to be changed) and what is working (so you don’t break it).
throughout the project, continue to test everything the team produces, beginning with your first rough sketches and continuing on with wireframes, page comps, prototypes, and finally actual pages.
You can download the script that I use for testing Web sites (or the slightly different version for testing apps) at rocketsurgerymadeeasy.com.
my definition of usability: A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing [i.e., it’s learnable] to accomplish something [effective] without it being more trouble than it’s worth [efficient].
I’ve always found it useful to imagine that every time we enter a Web site, we start out with a reservoir of goodwill. Each problem we encounter on the site lowers the level of that reservoir.
I should never have to think about formatting data: whether or not to put dashes in my Social Security number, spaces in my credit card number, or parentheses in my phone number. Many sites perversely insist on no spaces in credit card numbers, when the spaces actually make it much easier to type the number correctly. Don’t make me jump through hoops just because you don’t want to write a little bit of code.
You just don’t have the ability or resources to do what the user wants (for instance, your university’s library system requires separate passwords for each of your catalog databases, so you can’t give users the single login they’d like). If you can’t do what they want, at least let them know that you know you’re inconveniencing them.
the right thing to do. And not just the right thing; it’s profoundly the right thing to do, because the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made nearly often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives. Personally, I don’t think anyone should need more than this one example: Blind people with access to a computer can now read almost any newspaper or magazine on their own. Imagine that. How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better?
Screen-reader users scan with their ears. Most blind users are just as impatient as most sighted users. They want to get the information they need as quickly as possible. They do not listen to every word on the page—just as sighted users do not read every word. They “scan with their ears,” listening to just enough to decide whether to listen further.
UX sees its role as taking the users’ needs into account at every stage of the product life cycle, from the time they see an ad on TV, through purchasing it and tracking its delivery online, and even returning it to a local branch store.
You want your enthusiasm for usability to be infectious, but it just doesn’t work to go around with the attitude that you’re bringing the truth—about usability, or anything else—to the unwashed masses. Your primary role should be to share what you know, not to tell people how things should be done.
Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.
Scientists make theories, and engineers make devices. Computer scientists make algorithms, which are both theories and devices.
In farming, we plant the seeds, make sure they have enough water and nutrients, and reap the grown crops. Why can’t technology be more like this? It can, and that’s the promise of machine learning. Learning algorithms are the seeds, data is the soil, and the learned programs are the grown plants. The machine-learning expert is like a farmer, sowing the seeds, irrigating and fertilizing the soil, and keeping an eye on the health of the crop but otherwise staying out of the way.
A new type of network effect takes hold: whoever has the most customers accumulates the most data, learns the best models, wins the most new customers, and so on in a virtuous circle
Machine learning comes to the rescue, scouring the literature for relevant information, translating one area’s jargon into another’s, and even making connections that scientists weren’t aware of.
Here, then, is the central hypothesis of this book: All knowledge—past, present, and future—can be derived from data by a single, universal learning algorithm. I call this learner the Master Algorithm.
Bayes’ theorem, as the formula is known, tells you how to update your beliefs whenever you see new evidence. A Bayesian learner starts with a set of hypotheses about the world. When it sees a new piece of data, the hypotheses that are compatible with it become more likely, and the hypotheses that aren’t become less likely (or even impossible). After seeing enough data, a single hypothesis dominates, or a few do.
“Listen to your customers, not to the HiPPO,” HiPPO being short for “highest paid person’s opinion.” If you want to be tomorrow’s authority, ride the data, don’t fight it.
Being aware of this is the first step to a happy life in the twenty-first century. Teach the learners, and they will serve you; but first you need to understand them. What in my job can be done by a learning algorithm, what can’t, and—most important—how can I take advantage of machine learning to do it better? The computer is your tool, not your adversary. Armed with machine learning, a manager becomes a supermanager, a scientist a superscientist, an engineer a superengineer. The future belongs to those who understand at a very deep level how to combine their unique expertise with what algorithms do best.
Control of data and ownership of the models learned from it is what many of the twenty-first century’s battles will be about—between governments, corporations, unions, and individuals.
In his Pensées, published in 1669, Pascal said we should believe in the Christian God because if he exists that gains us eternal life, and if he doesn’t we lose very little. This was a remarkably sophisticated argument for the time, but as Diderot pointed out, an imam could make the same argument for believing in Allah. And if you pick the wrong god, the price you pay is eternal hell. On balance, considering the wide variety of possible gods, you’re no better off picking a particular one to believe in than you are picking any other. For every god that says “do this,” there’s another that says “no, do that.” You may as well just forget about god and enjoy life without religious constraints.
A clock that’s always an hour late has high bias but low variance. If instead the clock alternates erratically between fast and slow but on average tells the right time, it has high variance but low bias.
In 1994, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota and MIT built a recommendation system based on what they called “a deceptively simple idea”: people who agreed in the past are likely to agree again in the future. That notion led directly to the collaborative filtering systems that all self-respecting e-commerce sites have.
You don’t need explicit ratings to do collaborative filtering, by the way. If Ken ordered a movie on Netflix, that means he expects to like it. So the “ratings” can just be ordered/not ordered, and two users are similar if they’ve ordered a lot of the same movies. Even just clicking on something implicitly shows interest in it. Nearest-neighbor works with all of the above. These days all kinds of algorithms are used to recommend items to users, but weighted k-nearest-neighbor was the first widely used one, and it’s still hard to beat.
teaching the computer about you. The more you teach it, the better it can serve you—or manipulate you. Life is a game between you and the learners that surround you. You can refuse to play, but then you’ll have to live a twentieth-century life in the twenty-first. Or you can play to win. What model of you do you want the computer to have? And what data can you give it that will produce that model? Those two questions should always be in the back of your mind whenever you interact with a learning algorithm—as they are when you interact with other people.
your model will go on millions of dates so you don’t have to, and come Saturday, you’ll meet your top prospects at an OkCupid-organized party, knowing that you’re also one of their top prospects—and knowing, of course, that their other top prospects are also in the room. It’s sure to be an interesting night.
In the world of the Master Algorithm, “my people will call your people” becomes “my program will call your program.” Everyone has an entourage of bots, smoothing his or her way through the world. Deals get pitched, terms negotiated, arrangements made, all before you lift a finger.
between you and them there needs to be an honest data broker that guarantees your data won’t be misused, but also that no free riders share the benefits without sharing the data.
The twentieth century needed labor unions to balance the power of workers and bosses. The twenty-first needs data unions for a similar reason. Corporations have a vastly greater ability to gather and use data than individuals. This leads to an asymmetry in power, and the more valuable the data—the better and more useful the models that can be learned from it—the greater the asymmetry. A data union lets its members bargain on equal terms with companies about the use of their data. Perhaps labor unions can get the ball rolling, and shore up their membership, by starting data unions for their members. But labor unions are organized by occupation and location; data unions can be more flexible. Join up with people you have a lot in common with; the models learned will be more useful to you that way.
The European Union’s Court of Justice has decreed that people have the right to be forgotten, but they also have the right to remember, whether it’s with their neurons or a hard disk. So do companies, and up to a point, the interests of users, data gatherers, and advertisers are aligned. Wasted attention benefits no one, and better data makes better products. Privacy is not a zero-sum game, even though it’s often treated like one.
Today, most people are unaware of both how much data about them is being gathered and what the potential costs and benefits are. Companies seem content to continue doing it under the radar, terrified of a blowup. But sooner or later a blowup will happen, and in the ensuing fracas, draconian laws will be passed that in the end will serve no one. Better to foster awareness now and let everyone make their individual choices about what to share, what not, and how and where.
(Hold on to your vote—it may be the most valuable thing you have.) When the unemployment rate rises above 50 percent, or even before, attitudes about redistribution will radically change. The newly unemployed majority will vote for generous lifetime unemployment benefits and the sky-high taxes needed to fund them.
Eventually, we’ll start talking about the employment rate instead of the unemployment one and reducing it will be seen as a sign of progress. (“The US is falling behind. Our employment rate is still 23 percent.”) Unemployment benefits will be replaced by a basic income for everyone. Those of us who aren’t satisfied with it will be able to earn more, stupendously more, in the few remaining human occupations. Liberals and conservatives will still fight about the tax rate, but the goalposts will have permanently moved. With the total value of labor greatly reduced, the wealthiest nations will be those with the highest ratio of natural resources to population. (Move to Canada now.) For those of us not working, life will not be meaningless, any more than life on a tropical island where nature’s bounty meets all needs is meaningless. A gift economy will develop, of which the open-source software movement is a preview. People will seek meaning in human relationships, self-actualization, and spirituality, much as they do now. The need to earn a living will be a distant memory, another piece of humanity’s barbaric past that we rose above.
People worry that computers will get too smart and take over the world, but the real problem is that they’re too stupid and they’ve already taken over the world.
Carlo Ratti and Matthew ClaudelBuy on Amazon
McLuhan readily acknowledged that “the more you create village conditions,” the more you generate “discontinuity and division and diversity. The Global Village absolutely insures maximal disagreement on all points. It never occurred to me that uniformity and tranquility were properties of the Global Village. It has more spite and envy. The spaces and times are pulled out from between people. A world in which people encounter each other in depth all the time. The tribal-global village is far more divisive—full of fighting—than any nationalism ever was. Village is fission, not fusion, in depth all the time.”
cities are human magnets.
People fundamentally want to be with other people, they want to be in a beautiful place, they want to be at the center of it all: people want to live in cities.
This information flow generally has three components. First, instrumentation: an omnipresent array of sensors measuring environmental conditions and movements (both human and material). Second, analytics: the algorithms that consume massive amounts of urban data to find patterns and even predict future scenarios. Third, actuators: digitally controlled devices that can respond to data in real time and impact physical space.
As digital systems slip quietly into the background, an entirely new generation of consumer products will be introduced—“ everyware”—imagined as intuitive, integrated, and invisible, an unobtrusive class of devices and systems that scarcely demand any attention from users. Everyware will become an ecosystem of quiet technology, deeply assimilated in urban space.
“How smart does your bed have to be, before you are afraid to go to sleep at night?”
Jacobs emerged as a champion of the citizens’ city in the face of her contemporaries’ uncompromising approach—most contentiously, Robert Moses’ highway-based urban efficiency. Jacobs mounted what she herself called “an attack on current city planning and rebuilding,” arguing that there is a higher goal for urban design than promoting high-volume traffic flow.
And just as ordinary people have hacked software, “citizen developers” can begin to hack their city. Various crowd-based platforms have proven the strength, ingenuity, bug fixing, and ideation of the world-at-large. A broad mix of experts, amateurs, corporate teams, and wildcard players is remarkably productive in unexpected ways if it can be effectively organized.
The new formal language was enabled in large part by parametric design software: digital tools that allow the architect to script an internal logic, input data values (objective contextual factors, zoning, or functionality requirements), and run an algorithm to negotiate those constraints and produce formal, often extraordinarily complex artifacts. Rather than detailing intricate specificities by hand, the architect writes parameters, and the computer churns out highly elaborate results.
Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, located in central Tokyo—is a paradigmatic example of Metabolist theory. It is conceived as a central spine, onto which individual housing pods can be attached and rearranged. In theory, infinite combinations of pods and connections between them allow residents to create larger or smaller spaces in response to different families, budgets, or changes in housing demand over time. Yet the Capsule Tower reveals a deep conceptual flaw: since the building’s completion in 1972, not a single pod has been shifted or combined.
“All evolution is co-evolution; individual species and their environments change and evolve on parallel courses, constantly exchanging information.”
Schemes that targeted public transit exacerbated societal shifts toward personal mobility. What has come to be known as the “Great American Streetcar Conspiracy”—although the conspiracy remains unproven—choked public transit in cities across the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. A group of automobile companies, allegedly led by General Motors, implemented programs to purchase streetcar and electric train systems and subsequently dismantle them.
Among Mumford’s less subtle arguments is the iconic phrase “Forget the damned motor car and build cities for lovers and friends.”
when roads are crowded with commuters, the system responds by charging them more, effectively mitigating peak congestion. Various forms of Electronic Road Pricing have been implemented by cities around the world, including London, Singapore, Stockholm, and Milan, improving traffic in their downtown road networks. With similar intent, many corporations have introduced offset working hours to shift commute times earlier or later without impacting the duration of the workday.
It has been estimated that every shared car can remove between ten and thirty privately owned cars from the road.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today,” said Malcolm X.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope,” said Martin Luther King Jr.
Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” but the summations of the state of the world often assume that it must be all one way or the other, and since it is not all good it must all suck royally. Fitzgerald’s forgotten next sentence is, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.
The focus on survival demands that you notice the tiger in the tree before you pay attention to the beauty of its branches. The one person who’s furious at you compels more attention than the eighty-nine who love you. Problems are our work; we deal with them in order to survive or to improve the world, and so to face them is better than turning away from them, from burying them and denying them. To face them can be an act of hope, but only if you remember that they’re not all there is.
the change that counts in revolution takes place first in the imagination. Histories usually pick up when the action begins, but Schell quotes John Adams saying that the American Revolution “was in the minds of the people and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities commenced.” And Thomas Jefferson concluded, “This was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years, before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”
(Stalin reputedly once said, “Ideas are far more dangerous than guns. We don’t allow our enemies to have guns, why should we allow them to have ideas?”)
Just as fashions are more likely to originate in the street with poor nonwhite kids, so are new stories likely to start in the marginal zones, with visionaries, radicals, obscure researchers, the young, the poor— the discounted, who count anyway.
Environmentalists like to say that defeats are permanent, victories temporary. Extinction, like death, is forever, but protection needs to be maintained.
Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later. An essay, a book, is one statement in a long conversation you could call culture or history; you are answering something or questioning something that may have fallen silent long ago, and the response to your words may come long after you’re gone and never reach your ears, if anyone hears you in the first place.
In California, some seeds lie dormant for decades because they only germinate after fire, and sometimes the burned landscape blooms most lavishly.
Bad strategy may actively avoid analyzing obstacles because a leader believes that negative thoughts get in the way. Leaders may create bad strategy by mistakenly treating strategy work as an exercise in goal setting rather than problem solving. Or they may avoid hard choices because they do not wish to offend anyone—generating a bad strategy that tries to cover all the bases rather than focus resources and actions.
The leader of an organization lacking a good strategy may simply believe that strategy is unnecessary. But more often the lack is due to the presence of bad strategy. Like weeds crowding out the grass, bad strategy crowds out good strategy. Leaders using bad strategies have not just chosen the wrong goals or made implementation errors. Rather, they have mistaken views about what strategy is and how it works.
it argued that having a true competitive strategy meant engaging in actions that imposed exorbitant costs on the other side. In particular, it recommended investing in technologies that were expensive to counter and where the counters did not add to Soviet offensive capabilities. For instance, increasing the accuracy of missiles or the quietness of submarines forced the Soviet Union to spend scarce resources on counters without increasing the threat to the United States. Investments in systems that made Soviet systems obsolete would also force them to spend,
Their insight was framed in the language of business strategy: identify your strengths and weaknesses, assess the opportunities and risks (your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses), and build on your strengths. But the power of that strategy derived from their discovery of a different way of viewing competitive advantage—a shift from thinking about pure military capability to one of looking for ways to impose asymmetric costs on an opponent.
A hallmark of true expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable. A hallmark of mediocrity and bad strategy is unnecessary complexity—a flurry of fluff masking an absence of substance.
A strategy is a way through a difficulty, an approach to overcoming an obstacle, a response to a challenge. If the challenge is not defined, it is difficult or impossible to assess the quality of the strategy. And if you cannot assess a strategy’s quality, you cannot reject a bad strategy or improve a good one.
it retains program managers for only four to six years to limit empire building and to bring in fresh talent. The expectation is that a new program manager will be willing to challenge the ideas and work of predecessors. In addition, DARPA has a very limited investment in overhead and physical facilities in order to prevent entrenched interests from thwarting progress in new directions.
Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes. One form of bad strategic objectives occurs when there is a scrambled mess of things to accomplish—a “dog’s dinner” of strategic objectives. A long list of “things to do,” often mislabeled as “strategies” or “objectives,” is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders make suggestions as to things they would like to see done. Rather than focus on a few important items, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into the “strategic plan.” Then, in recognition that it is a dog’s dinner, the label “long-term” is added so that none of them need be done today.
When a leader characterizes the challenge as underperformance, it sets the stage for bad strategy. Underperformance is a result. The true challenges are the reasons for the underperformance.
One would hope that the experience of North Korea would have cured people of the idea that forcing everyone to believe in and value the same things is the road to high performance.
When a strategy works, we tend to remember what was accomplished, not the possibilities that were painfully set aside.
Strategies focus resources, energy, and attention on some objectives rather than others.
The kernel of a strategy contains three elements: A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical. A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis. A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.
In business, the challenge is usually dealing with change and competition. The first step toward effective strategy is diagnosing the specific structure of the challenge rather than simply naming performance goals. The second step is choosing an overall guiding policy for dealing with the situation that builds on or creates some type of leverage or advantage. The third step is the design of a configuration of actions and resource allocations that implement the chosen guiding policy.
In business, most deep strategic changes are brought about by a change in diagnosis—a change in the definition of the company’s situation.
The guiding policy outlines an overall approach for overcoming the obstacles highlighted by the diagnosis. It is “guiding” because it channels action in certain directions without defining exactly what shall be done. Kennan’s containment and Gerstner’s drawing on all of IBM’s resources to solve customers’ problems are examples of guiding policies. Like the guardrails on a highway, the guiding policy directs and constrains action without fully defining its content.
Good strategy is not just “what” you are trying to do. It is also “why” and “how” you are doing it.
“Without action, the world would still be an idea.”
In many situations, the main impediment to action is the forlorn hope that certain painful choices or actions can be avoided—that the whole long list of hoped-for “priorities” can all be achieved. It is the hard craft of strategy to decide which priority shall take precedence. Only then can action be taken. And, interestingly, there is no greater tool for sharpening strategic ideas than the necessity to act.
A “threshold effect” exists when there is a critical level of effort necessary to affect the system. Levels of effort below this threshold have little payoff. When there are threshold effects, it is prudent to limit objectives to those that can be affected by the resources at the strategist’s disposal. For example, there seems to be a threshold effect in advertising. That is, a very small amount of advertising will produce no result at all. One has to get over this hump, or threshold, to start getting a response to advertising efforts.5
every organization faces a situation where the full complexity and ambiguity of the situation is daunting. An important duty of any leader is to absorb a large part of that complexity and ambiguity, passing on to the organization a simpler problem—one that is solvable. Many leaders fail badly at this responsibility, announcing ambitious goals without resolving a good chunk of ambiguity about the specific obstacles to be overcome. To take responsibility is more than a willingness to accept the blame. It is setting proximate objectives and handing the organization a problem it can actually solve.
the more uncertain and dynamic the situation, the more proximate a strategic objective must be. The proximate objective is guided by forecasts of the future, but the more uncertain the future, the more its essential logic is that of “taking a strong position and creating options,” not of looking far ahead.
Two masters trying to defeat each other in a chess game are, during a large part of the game, likely to be making moves that have no immediate end other than to “improve my position.” One does not win a chess game by always selecting moves that are directly aimed at trying to mate the opponent or even at trying to win a particular piece. For the most part, the aim of a move is to find positions for one’s pieces that (a) increase their mobility, that is, increase the options open to them and decrease the freedom of operation of the opponent’s pieces; and (b) impose certain relatively stable patterns on the board that induce enduring strength for oneself and enduring weakness for the opponent. If and when sufficient positional advantages have been accumulated, they generally can be cashed in with greater or less ease by tactical maneuvers (combinations) against specific targets that are no longer defensible or only at terrible cost.5
It is also human nature to associate current profit with recent actions, even though it should be evident that current plenty is the harvest of planting seasons long past.
the incumbent laxity and inertia that gave these upstarts their openings applies to them as well. In time, most will loosen their tight integration and begin to rely more on accumulated resources and less on clever business design. Relying on the profits accruing to accumulated resources, they will lose the discipline of tight integration, allowing independent fiefdoms to flourish and adding so many products and projects that integration becomes impossible. Faced with the natural slowing of growth over time, they will try to create an appearance of youthful vigor with bolt-on acquisitions. Then, when their resource base eventually becomes obsolete, they, too, will become prey to another generation of upstarts. It is the cycle of life. Its important lesson is that we should learn design-type strategy from an upstart’s early conquests rather than from the mature company’s posturing.
it is usually quite difficult to convince buyers to pay an up-front premium for future savings, even if the numbers are clear. People tend to be more myopic than economic theory would suggest.
how can we independently identify a company’s strategy? We do this by looking at each policy of the company and noticing those that are different from the norm in the industry. We then try to figure out the common target of such distinctive policies—what they are coordinated on accomplishing.”
wealth increases when competitive advantage increases or when the demand for the resources underlying it increases. In particular, increasing value requires a strategy for progress on at least one of four different fronts: deepening advantages, broadening the extent of advantages, creating higher demand for advantaged products or services, or strengthening the isolating mechanisms that block easy replication and imitation by competitors.
Another broad approach to strengthening isolating mechanisms is to have a moving target for imitators. In a static setting, rivals will sooner or later figure out how to duplicate much of your proprietary know-how and other specialized resources. However, if you can continually improve, or simply alter, your methods and products, rivals will have a much harder time with imitation.
Good hardware and software engineers are both expensive. The big difference lies in the cost of prototyping, upgrading, and, especially, the cost of fixing a mistake. Design always involves a certain amount of trial and error, and hardware trials and errors are much more costly. If a hardware design doesn’t work correctly, it can mean months of expensive redesign. If software doesn’t work, a software engineer fixes the problem by typing new instructions into a file, recompiling, and trying again in a few minutes or a few days. And software can be quickly fixed and upgraded even after the product has shipped.
Even with its engines on hard reverse, a supertanker can take one mile to come to a stop. This property of mass—resistance to a change in motion—is inertia. In business, inertia is an organization’s unwillingness or inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Even with change programs running at full throttle, it can take many years to alter a large company’s basic functioning.
Successful strategies often owe a great deal to the inertia and inefficiency of rivals. For example, Netflix pushed past the now-bankrupt Blockbuster because the latter could not, or would not, abandon its focus on retail stores.
The reaction to a request for demonstration code was as if Boeing engineers had been asked to design toy airplanes. Just as in a large university, the breakthroughs of a tiny number of very talented individuals had been used to justify a contemplative life for thousands of others.
good product-market strategy is useless if important competencies, assumed present, are absent and their development is blocked by long-established culture.
I call this a hump chart. Whenever you can assign profit or gain to individual products, outlets, areas, segments, or any other portion of the total, you can build a hump chart.
in general, if you have a “me-too” product, you prefer fragmented retail buyers. On the other hand, if you have a better product, a powerful buyer such as Dell can help it see the light of day.
The problem of coming up with a good strategy has the same logical structure as the problem of coming up with a good scientific hypothesis. The key differences are that most scientific knowledge is broadly shared, whereas you are working with accumulated wisdom about your business and your industry that is unlike anyone else’s. A good strategy is, in the end, a hypothesis about what will work. Not a wild theory, but an educated judgment.
The presumption that all important knowledge is already known, or available through consultation with authorities, deadens innovation. It is this presumption that stifles change in traditional societies and blocks improvement in organizations and societies that come to believe that their way is the best way. To generate a strategy, one must put aside the comfort and security of pure deduction and launch into the murkier waters of induction, analogy, judgment, and insight.
The ultimate worth of a strategy is determined by its success, not its acceptability to a council of philosophers or a board of editors. Good strategy work is necessarily empirical and pragmatic. Especially in business, whatever grand notions a person may have about the products or services the world might need, or about human behavior, or about how organizations should be managed, what does not actually “work” cannot long survive.
the lack of universality does not make business unscientific. Science is a method, not an outcome, and the basic method of good businesspeople is intense attention to data and to what works.
The Boston Tea Party, the Revolution, and the War of 1812 interrupted trade in tea, reviving interest in coffee. Americans found in coffee an inexpensive tea substitute that could be drunk in quantity. By 1820, the transition was complete, and the United States became the largest market for coffee in the world.
Integration is not always a good idea. When a company can buy perfectly good products and services from outside suppliers, it is usually wasteful to go through the expense and trouble of mastering a new set of business operations. However, when the core of a business strategy requires the mutual adjustment of multiple elements, and especially when there is important learning to be captured about interactions across business elements, then it may be vital to own and control these elements of the business mix.
Making a list is a basic tool for overcoming our own cognitive limitations. The list itself counters forgetfulness. The act of making a list forces us to reflect on the relative urgency and importance of issues. And making a list of “things to do, now” rather than “things to worry about” forces us to resolve concerns into actions.
when we do come up with an idea, we tend to spend most of our effort justifying it rather than questioning it. That seems to be human nature, even in experienced executives. To put it simply, our minds dodge the painful work of questioning and letting go of our first early judgments, and we are not conscious of the dodge.
most of the time, when asked to generate more alternatives, people simply add one or two shallow alternatives to their initial insight. Consciously or unconsciously, they seem to resist developing several robust strategies. Instead, most people take their initial insight and tweak it slightly, adding a straw-man alternative,
a terrible industry looks like this: the product is an undifferentiated commodity; everyone has the same costs and access to the same technology; and buyers are price sensitive, knowledgeable, and willing to switch suppliers at a moment’s notice to get a better deal.
The original Jeffersonian ideal was a nation of citizen farmers, each owning the means of his or her own support. Today, this vision has morphed into one of a nation of homeowners, each working 100 days a year to pay their taxes and another 125 days a year to pay their mortgages.
Social herding presses us to think that everything is OK (or not OK) because everyone else is saying so. The inside view presses us to ignore the lessons of other times and other places, believing that our company, our nation, our new venture, or our era is different. It is important to push back against these biases. You can do this by paying attention to real-world data that refutes the echo-chamber chanting of the crowd—and by learning the lessons taught by history and by other people in other places.
There is powerful social pressure to avoid incremental change, particularly any change that would require working with people outside tech and treating them as intellectual equals.
treating the world as software promotes fantasies of control. And the best kind of control is control without responsibility. Our unique position as authors of software used by millions gives us power, but we don’t accept that this should make us accountable.
Those who benefit from the death of privacy attempt to frame our subjugation in terms of freedom, just like early factory owners talked about the sanctity of contract law. They insisted that a worker should have the right to agree to anything, from sixteen-hour days to unsafe working conditions, as if factory owners and workers were on an equal footing. Companies that perform surveillance are attempting the same mental trick. They assert that we freely share our data in return for valuable services. But opting out of surveillance capitalism is like opting out of electricity, or cooked foods—you are free to do it in theory. In practice, it will upend your life.
imagine what the British surveillance state, already the worst in Europe, is going to look like in two years, when it’s no longer bound by the protections of European law, and economic crisis has driven the country further into xenophobia.
I am very suspicious of attempts to change the world that can’t first work on a local scale. If after decades we can’t improve quality of life in places where the tech élite actually lives, why would we possibly make life better anywhere else? We should not listen to people who promise to make Mars safe for human habitation, until we have seen them make Oakland safe for human habitation. We should be skeptical of promises to revolutionize transportation from people who can’t fix BART, or have never taken BART. And if Google offers to make us immortal, we should check first to make sure we’ll have someplace to live.
committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs. She will deliver on this goal with continue investments in the Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP),
She will deliver on this goal with continue investments in the Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP),
Reduce regulatory barriers to the private provision of broadband services: Localities may seek to stimulate more investment by current or new service providers by streamlining permitting processes, allowing nondiscriminatory access to existing infrastructure such as conduits and poles, pursuing “climb once” policies to eliminate delays, or facilitating demand aggregation.
Hillary will dedicate federal research funding to test-bedding, field trials, and other public-private endeavors to speed the deployment of next generation wireless networks and a civic Internet of Things. Governments around the world are already investing billions of dollars in developing and commercializing 5G technologies, and Hillary wants American companies to lead the world in wireless innovation. Her investments will aim at using advanced wireless and data innovation to drive social priorities in a range of areas, such as public safety, health care, environmental management, traffic congestion, and social welfare services.
She supports the Department of Commerce’s plans to formally transition its oversight role in the management of the Domain Name System to the global community of stakeholders, viewing the transition as a critical step towards safeguarding the internet’s openness for future generations.
Hillary will challenge state and local governments to identify, review, and reform legal and regulatory obligations that protect legacy incumbents against new innovators. Examples include state regulations governing automotive dealers that stifle innovation and restrict market access, or local rules governing utility-pole access that restrain additional fiber and small cell broadband deployment.
Hillary will make the USDS and other digital services a permanent part of the executive branch to ensure that technical innovation becomes an ongoing feature of American governance. There should be a constant flow of technology and design experts working to make it easier for Americans to get affordable health insurance, apply for student loans, or get the veterans benefits they deserve. Hillary will expand dedicated Digital Service teams throughout federal agencies (including civil servants and outside experts), and ensure that CIOs are part of this innovation agenda. She will maintain support for other federal tech programs—18F, Innovation Fellows, and Innovation Labs—and look to them to develop a coordinated approach to tackling pressing technology problems. She will also explore ways to leverage these capabilities to help our state and local governments with their own tech issues and agencies.
Hillary will charge the USDS with transforming and digitizing the top 25 federal government services that directly serve citizens. For each one, the USDS would redesign them to meet the needs of citizens in the 21st century; publish detailed performance and customer service metrics, including creating a “Yelp for government” that allows for easy citizen rating; and embrace the industry best practice of continuous site improvement. Hillary will make sure that government delivers on results for citizens.
The federal government spends nearly $90 billion in information technology but the American taxpayer doesn’t get $90 billion in value. Hillary will make it easier for the federal government to find, try, and buy innovative technology—including open source software. She would also break large federal IT projects into smaller pieces, so it will be easier to stop projects that are over budget or failing to meet user needs, and also more feasible for small and medium-sized businesses to support public service projects.
She would fully implement the DATA Act to make government spending more transparent and accountable to the American people, improving USASpending.gov so that Americans can more accurately see how and where their taxpayer dollars are spent. She would also bring an open data approach to regulation—making it easier for businesses to submit structured data instead of documents, and bringing greater transparency to financial and other markets so that regulators, watchdog groups, and the American people can more easily identify fraud and illegal behavior.
She will encourage government agencies to consider innovative tools like bug bounty programs, modeled on the Defense Department’s recent “Hack the Pentagon” initiative, to encourage hackers to responsibly disclose vulnerabilities they discover to the government.
Hillary will also embrace this practice of prioritized goal setting and performance tracking for the federal government. Her agenda and priorities would be clearly articulated on performance.gov; progress against these goals would be demonstrated, using up-to-date, real time data; and issues blocking progress would be presented, along with action plans to address them.
Hillary will allow entrepreneurs to put their federal student loans into a special status while they get their new ventures off the ground. For millions of young Americans, this would mean deferment from having to make any payments on their student loans for up to three years—zero interest and zero principal—as they work through the critical start-up phase of new enterprises. Hillary will explore a similar deferment incentive not just to founders of enterprises, but to early joiners – such as the first 10 or 20 employees. Additionally, for young innovators who decide to launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit, she will offer forgiveness of up to $17,500 of their student loans after five years.
In short, we need a lifelong learning system that is better tailored to the 21st century economy—one that enables ongoing skills building, emphasizes portable and performance-based credentials, and enables employers, job seekers, and education providers to be in constant communication.
Hillary would “staple” a green card to STEM masters and PhDs from accredited institutions—enabling international students who complete degrees in these fields to move to green card status. Hillary will also support “start-up” visas that allow top entrepreneurs from abroad to come to the United States, build companies in technology-oriented globally traded sectors, and create more jobs and opportunities for American workers. Immigrant entrepreneurs would have to obtain a commitment of financial support from U.S. investors before obtaining the visa, and would have to create a certain number of jobs and reach performance benchmarks in order to pursue a green card.
These days it takes us a decade after a technology appears to develop a social consensus on what it means and what etiquette we need to tame it. In another five years we’ll find a polite place for twittering, just as we figured out what to do with cell phones ringing everywhere. (Use silent vibrators.) Just like that, this initial response will disappear quickly and we’ll see it was neither essential nor inevitable.
Banning the inevitable usually backfires. Prohibition is at best temporary, and in the long counterproductive. A vigilant, eyes-wide-open embrace works much better.
Technology is humanity’s accelerant. Because of technology everything we make is always in the process of becoming. Every kind of thing is becoming something else, while it churns from “might” to “is.” All is flux. Nothing is finished. Nothing is done. This never-ending change is the pivotal axis of the modern world.
second law of thermodynamics, which states that everything is falling apart slowly.
Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.
Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades. And the rate of graduations is accelerating.
First, most of the important technologies that will dominate life 30 years from now have not yet been invented, so naturally you’ll be a newbie to them. Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.
Because here is the other thing the graybeards in 2050 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh. “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”
the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.
Rather than use AI to make its search better, Google is using search to make its AI better. Every time you type a query, click on a search-generated link, or create a link on the web, you are training the Google AI. When you type “Easter Bunny” into the image search bar and then click on the most Easter Bunny–looking image, you are teaching the AI what an Easter Bunny looks like. Each of the 3 billion queries that Google conducts each day tutors the deep-learning AI over and over again. With another 10 years of steady improvements to its AI algorithms, plus a thousandfold more data and a hundred times more computing resources, Google will have an unrivaled AI.
My prediction: By 2026, Google’s main product will not be search but AI.
In the next 10 years, 99 percent of the artificial intelligence that you will interact with, directly or indirectly, will be nerdly narrow, supersmart specialists.
The synthetic Dr. Watson at our hospital should be maniacal in its work, never wondering whether it should have majored in finance instead. What we want instead of conscious intelligence is artificial smartness. As AIs develop, we might have to engineer ways to prevent consciousness in them. Our most premium AI services will likely be advertised as consciousness-free.
One way that would help us to imagine what greater yet different intelligences would be like is to begin to create a taxonomy of the variety of minds. This matrix of minds would include animal minds, and machine minds, and possible minds, particularly transhuman minds, like the ones that science fiction writers have come up with.
Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all. Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think.
Humans are for inventing new kinds of intelligences that biology could not evolve. Our job is to make machines that think different—to create alien intelligences. We should really call AIs “AAs,” for “artificial aliens.”
It may be hard to believe, but before the end of this century, 70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation—including the job you hold. In other words, robots are inevitable and job replacement is just a matter of time.
By 2050 most truck drivers won’t be human. Since truck driving is currently the most common occupation in the U.S., this is a big deal.
any job dealing with reams of paperwork will be taken over by bots, including much of medicine. The rote tasks of any information-intensive job can be automated. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, translator, editor, lawyer, architect, reporter, or even programmer: The robot takeover will be epic.
“Right now we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.”
we will need a whole army of robot nannies, dedicated to keeping your personal robots up and running.
You still have a job as a farmer, but robots do most of the actual farmwork. Your fleets of worker bots do all the outside work under the hot sun—weeding, pest control, and harvesting of produce—as directed by a very smart mesh of probes in the soil. Your new job as farmer is overseeing the farming system. One day your task might be to research which variety of heirloom tomato to plant; the next day to find out what your customers crave; the following day might be the time to update the information on your custom labels. The bots perform everything else that can be measured.
Seven Stages of Robot Replacement: 1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do. 2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do. 3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often. 4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks. 5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do. 6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more! 7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now. [Repeat.]
As Marshall McLuhan observed, the first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces.
Early gramophone equipment could make recordings that contained no more than four and a half minutes, so musicians abbreviated meandering works to fit to the phonograph, and today the standard duration of a pop song is four and a half minutes.
A universal law of economics says the moment something becomes free and ubiquitous, its position in the economic equation suddenly inverts. When nighttime electrical lighting was new and scarce, it was the poor who burned common candles. Later, when electricity became easily accessible and practically free, our preference flipped and candles at dinner became a sign of luxury.
When copies are superabundant, they become worthless. Instead, stuff that can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied? Trust, for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk.
Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. We call that branding.
Right now getting a full copy of all your DNA is very expensive ($10,000), but soon it won’t be. The price is dropping so fast, it will be $100 soon, and then the next year insurance companies will offer to sequence you for free. When a copy of your sequence costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it—the manual for your genes, so to speak—will be expensive.
The tools for quickly making a tune, altering a song, or algorithmically generating music that you share in real time are not far away. Custom music—that is, music that users generate—will become the norm, and indeed it will become the bulk of all music created each year. As music streams, it expands.
The efflorescent blossoming of liquid streams is an additive process, rather than subtractive. The old media forms endure; the new are layered on top of them.
Painting, music, architecture, dance were all important, but the heartbeat of Western culture was the turning pages of a book. By 1910 three quarters of the towns in the United States with more than 2,500 residents had a public library. America’s roots spring from documents—the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and, indirectly, the Bible. The country’s success depended on high levels of literacy, a robust free press, allegiance to the rule of law (found in books), and a common language across a continent. American prosperity and liberty grew out of a culture of reading and writing. We became People of the Book.
Reading becomes social. With screens we can share not just the titles of books we are reading, but our reactions and notes as we read them. Today, we can highlight a passage. Tomorrow, we will be able to link passages. We can add a link from a phrase in the book we are reading to a contrasting phrase in another book we’ve read, from a word in a passage to an obscure dictionary, from a scene in a book to a similar scene in a movie. (All these tricks will require tools for finding relevant passages.) We might subscribe to the marginalia feed from someone we respect, so we get not only their reading list but their marginalia—highlights, notes, questions, musings.
Right now the best we can do in terms of interconnection is to link some text to its source’s title in a bibliography or in a footnote. Much better would be a link to a specific passage in another passage in a work, a technical feat not yet possible. But when we can link deeply into documents at the resolution of a sentence, and have those links go two ways, we’ll have networked books.
Screens provoke action instead of persuasion. Propaganda is less effective in a world of screens, because while misinformation travels as fast as electrons, corrections do too.
The status of a new creation is determined not by the rating given to it by critics but by the degree to which it is linked to the rest of the world. A person, artifact, or fact does not “exist” until it is linked.
As more items are invented and manufactured—while the total number of hours in a day to enjoy them remains fixed—we spend less and less time per item. In other words, the long-term trend in our modern lives is that most goods and services will be short-term use. Therefore most goods and services are candidates for rental and sharing.
communication technology is biased toward moving everything to on demand. And on demand is biased toward access over ownership.
The wealthiest and most disruptive organizations today are almost all multisided platforms—Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. All these giants employ third-party vendors to increase the value of their platform. All employ APIs extensively that facilitate and encourage others to play with it.
In his 2008 book Here Comes Everybody, media theorist Clay Shirky suggests a useful hierarchy for sorting through these new social arrangements, ranked by the increasing degree of coordination employed. Groups of people start off simply sharing with a minimum of coordination, and then progress to cooperation, then to collaboration, and finally to collectivism. At each step of this socialism, the amount of additional coordination required enlarges.
If it were a nation, Facebook would be the largest country on the planet. Yet the entire economy of this largest country runs on labor that isn’t paid. A billion people spend a lot of their day creating content for free. They report on events around them, summarize stories, add opinions, create graphics, make up jokes, post cool photos, and craft videos. They are “paid” in the value of the communication and relations that emerge from 1.4 billion connected verifiable individuals. They are paid by being allowed to stay on the commune.
Over time, the companies that served user-generated content would have to start to layer bits of editing, selection, and curation to their ocean of material in order to maintain quality and attention to it. There had to be something else beside the pure anarchy of the bottom.
While millions of writers contribute to Wikipedia, a smaller number of editors (around 1,500) are responsible for the majority of the editing. Ditto for collectives that write code. A vast army of contributions is managed by a much smaller group of coordinators. As Mitch Kapor, founding chair of the Mozilla open source code factory, observed, “Inside every working anarchy, there’s an old-boy network.”
organizations built to create products rather than platforms often need strong leaders and hierarchies arranged around timescales: Lower-level work focuses on hourly needs; the next level on jobs that need to be done today. Higher levels focus on weekly or monthly chores, and levels above (often in the CEO suite) need to look out ahead at the next five years. The dream of many companies is to graduate from making products to creating a platform. But when they do succeed (like Facebook), they are often not ready for the required transformation in their role; they have to act more like governments than companies in keeping opportunities “flat” and equitable, and hierarchy to a minimum.
I would guess that in 50 years a significant portion of Wikipedia articles will have controlled edits, peer review, verification locks, authentication certificates, and so on. That’s all good for us readers. Each of these steps is a small amount of top-down smartness to offset the dumbness of a massively bottom-up system.
It’s fast, cheap, and out of control. The barriers to start a new crowd-powered service are low and getting lower. A hive mind scales up wonderfully smoothly. That is why there were 9,000 startups in 2015 trying to exploit the sharing power of decentralized peer-to-peer networks. It does not matter if they morph over time. Perhaps a hundred years from now these shared processes, such as Wikipedia, will be layered up with so much management that they’ll resemble the old-school centralized businesses. Even so, the bottom up was still the best way to start.
The largest, fastest growing, most profitable companies in 2050 will be companies that will have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and unappreciated today. Anything that can be shared—thoughts, emotions, money, health, time—will be shared in the right conditions, with the right benefits. Anything that can be shared can be shared better, faster, easier, longer, and in a million more ways than we currently realize. At this point in our history, sharing something that has not been shared before, or in a new way, is the surest way to increase its value.
A filter dedicated to probing one’s dislikes would have to be delicate, but could also build on the powers of large collaborative databases in the spirit of “people who disliked those, learned to like this one.” In somewhat the same vein I also, occasionally, want a bit of stuff I dislike but should learn to like. For me that might be anything related to nutritional supplements, details of political legislation, or hip-hop music. Great teachers have a knack for conveying unsavory packages to the unwilling in a way that does not scare them off; great filters can too. But would anyone sign up for such a filter?
Way back in 1971 Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize–winning social scientist, observed, “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Simon’s insight is often reduced to “In a world of abundance, the only scarcity is human attention.”
the average cost to consume one hour of media in 1995, 2010, and 2015 is respectively $3.08, $2.69, and $3.37. That means that the value of our attention has been remarkably stable over 20 years. It seems we have some intuitive sense of what a media experience “should” cost, and we don’t stray much from that.
That leaves the big question in an age of cheap plentitude: What is really valuable? Paradoxically, our attention to commodities is not worth much. Our monkey mind is cheaply hijacked. The remaining scarcity in an abundant society is the type of attention that is not derived or focused on commodities. The only things that are increasing in cost while everything else heads to zero are human experiences—which cannot be copied. Everything else becomes commoditized and filterable.
Not coincidentally, humans excel at creating and consuming experiences. This is no place for robots. If you want a glimpse of what we humans do when the robots take our current jobs, look at experiences. That’s where we’ll spend our money (because they won’t be free) and that’s where we’ll make our money. We’ll use technology to produce commodities, and we’ll make experiences in order to avoid becoming a commodity ourselves.
Modern technologies are combinations of earlier primitive technologies that have been rearranged and remixed. Since one can combine hundreds of simpler technologies with hundreds of thousands of more complex technologies, there is an unlimited number of possible new technologies—but they are all remixes. What is true for economic and technological growth is also true for digital growth. We are in a period of productive remixing. Innovators recombine simple earlier media genres with later complex genres to produce an unlimited number of new media genres. The more new genres, the more possible newer ones can be remixed from them. The rate of possible combinations grows exponentially, expanding the culture and the economy.
Longer texts require an alphabetic index, devised by the Greeks and later developed for libraries of books. Someday soon with AI we’ll have a way to index the full content of a film. Footnotes, invented in about the 12th century, allow tangential information to be displayed outside the linear argument of the main text. That would be useful in video as well. And bibliographic citations (invented in the 13th century) enable scholars and skeptics to systematically consult sources that influence or clarify the content. Imagine a video with citations.
In a few years we’ll be able to routinely search video via AI. As we do, we’ll begin to explore the Gutenberg possibilities within moving images. “I consider the pixel data in images and video to be the dark matter of the Internet,” says Fei-Fei Li, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “We are now starting to illuminate it.”
Typically I dip into my inbox or outbox several times a day to scroll back to some previous episode of my life. If we expect to scroll back, this will shift what we do the first time. The ability to scroll back easily, precisely, and deeply might change how we live in the future.
I suggest we follow the question, “Has it been transformed by the borrower?” Did the remixing, the mashup, the sampling, the appropriation, the borrowing—did it transform the original rather than just copy it? Did Andy Warhol transform the Campbell’s soup can? If yes, then the derivative is not really a “copy”; it’s been transformed, mutated, improved, evolved. The answer each time is still a judgment call, but the question of whether it has been transformed is the right question.
The Sensory Substitution Vest takes audio from tiny microphones in the vest and translates those sound waves into a grid of vibrations that can be felt by a deaf person wearing it. Over a matter of months, the deaf person’s brain reconfigures itself to “hear” the vest vibrations as sound, so by wearing this interacting cloth, the deaf can hear.
The achievable dream in the near future is to use this very personal database of your body’s record (including your full sequence of genes) to construct personal treatments and personalized medicines. Science would use your life’s log to generate treatments specifically for you. For instance, a smart personalized pill-making machine in your home (described in Chapter 7) would compound medicines in the exact proportions for your current bodily need. If the treatment in the morning eased the symptoms, the dosage in the evening would be adjusted by the system.
“When I acquire a new memory of (let’s say) talking to Melissa on a sunny afternoon outside the Red Parrot—I don’t have to give this memory a name, or stuff it in a directory. I can use anything in the memory as a retrieval key. I shouldn’t have to name electronic documents either, or put them in directories. I can shuffle other streams into mine—to the extent I have permission to use other people’s streams. My own personal stream, my electronic life story, can have other streams shuffled into it—streams belonging to groups or organizations I’m part of. And eventually I’ll have, for example, newspaper and magazine streams shuffled into my stream also.”
In his research Bell discovered that the most informative media to capture is audio, prompted and indexed by photos. Bell told me that if he could have only one, he’d rather have an audio log of his day than a visual log.
every car manufactured since 2006 contains a tiny OBD chip mounted under the dashboard. This chip records how your car is used. It tracks miles driven, at what speed, times of sudden braking, speed of turns, and gas mileage. This data was originally designed to help repair the car. Some insurance companies, such as Progressive, will lower your auto insurance rates if you give them access to your OBD driving log. Safer drivers pay less.
the U.S. government has not unified these streams because a thin wall of hard-won privacy laws holds them back. Few laws hold corporations back from integrating as much data as they can; therefore companies have become the proxy data gatherers for governments.
The internet wants to make copies. At first this fact is deeply troubling to creators, both individual and corporate, because their stuff will be copied indiscriminately, often for free, when it was once rare and precious. Some people fought, and still fight, very hard against the bias to copy (movie studios and music labels come to mind) and some people chose and choose to work with the bias. Those who embrace the internet’s tendency to copy and seek value that can’t be easily copied (through personalization, embodiment, authentication, etc.) tend to prosper, while those who deny, prohibit, and try to thwart the network’s eagerness to copy are left behind to catch up later. Consumers, of course, love the promiscuous copies and feed the machine to claim their benefits.
Some people fight hard against the bias to track and some will eventually work with the bias. Those who figure out how to domesticate tracking, to make it civil and productive, will prosper, while those who try only to prohibit and outlaw it will be left behind. Consumers say they don’t want to be tracked, but in fact they keep feeding the machine with their data, because they want to claim their benefits.
The growth of information has been steadily increasing at an insane rate for at least a century. It is no coincidence that 66 percent per year is the same as doubling every 18 months, which is the rate of Moore’s Law. Five years ago humanity stored several hundred exabytes of information. That is the equivalent of each person on the planet having 80 Library of Alexandrias. Today we average 320 libraries each.
In our everyday lives we generate far more information that we don’t yet capture and record. Despite the explosion in tracking and storage, most of our day-to-day life is not digitized. This unaccounted-for information is “wild” or “dark” information. Taming this wild information will ensure that the total amount of information we collect will keep doubling for many decades ahead.
Metadata is the new wealth because the value of bits increases when they are linked to other bits. The least productive life for a bit is to remain naked and alone. A bit uncopied, unshared, unlinked with other bits will be a short-lived bit. The worst future for a bit is to be parked in some dark isolated data vault. What bits really want is to hang out with other related bits, be replicated widely, and maybe become a metabit, or an action bit in a piece of durable code. If we could personify bits, we’d say: Bits want to move. Bits want to be linked to other bits. Bits want to be reckoned in real time. Bits want to be duplicated, replicated, copied. Bits want to be meta.
There is a one-to-one correspondence between personalization and transparency. Greater personalization requires greater transparency. Absolute personalization (vanity) requires absolute transparency (no privacy). If I prefer to remain private and opaque to potential friends and institutions, then I must accept I will be treated generically, without regard to my specific particulars.
For the civilized world, anonymity is like a rare earth metal. In larger doses these heavy metals are some of the most toxic substances known to a life. They kill. Yet these elements are also a necessary ingredient in keeping a cell alive. But the amount needed for health is a mere hard-to-measure trace. Anonymity is the same. As a trace element in vanishingly small doses, it’s good, even essential for the system. Anonymity enables the occasional whistle-blower and can protect the persecuted fringe and political outcasts. But if anonymity is present in any significant quantity, it will poison the system. While anonymity can be used to protect heroes, it is far more commonly used as a way to escape responsibility. That’s why most of the brutal harassment on Twitter, Yik Yak, Reddit, and other sites is delivered anonymously. A lack of responsibility unleashes the worst in us.
Because of our global connectivity, a relatively simple hack could cause an emerging cascade of failure, which would reach impossible scale very quickly. Worldwide disruptions of our social fabric are in fact inevitable. One day in the next three decades the entire internet/phone system will blink off for 24 hours, and we’ll be in shock for years afterward.
When we all wear tiny cameras all the time, then the most improbable event, the most superlative achievement, the most extreme actions of anyone alive will be recorded and shared around the world in real time. Soon only the most extraordinary moments of 6 billion citizens will fill our streams. So henceforth rather than be surrounded by ordinariness we’ll float in extraordinariness—as it becomes mundane. When the improbable dominates our field of vision to the point that it seems as if the world contains only the impossible, then these improbabilities don’t feel as improbable. The impossible will feel inevitable.
To steer a kayak on white-water rapids you need to be paddling at least as fast as the water runs, and to hope to navigate the exabytes of information, change, disruption coming at us, you need to be flowing as fast as the frontier is flowing.
The more disruptive a technology or tool is, the more disruptive the questions it will breed. We can expect future technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and quantum computing (to name a few on the near horizon) to unleash a barrage of new huge questions—questions we could have never thought to ask before. In fact, it’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.
We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or post an item for our friends, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the holos mind, thereby programming it by using it. Think of the 100 billion times per day humans click on a web page as a way of teaching the holos what we think is important. Each time we forge a link between words, we teach this contraption an idea.
The more time you spend reading the research literature, the more it becomes clear: Giving people more control over what they do and how they do it increases their happiness, engagement, and sense of fulfillment.
when it comes to decisions affecting your core career, money remains an effective judge of value. “If you’re struggling to raise money for an idea, or are thinking that you will support your idea with unrelated work, then you need to rethink the idea.”
leverage the open-source software movement. This movement brings together computer programmers who volunteer their time to build software that’s freely available and modifiable. Fowler argued that this community is well respected and highly visible. If you want to make a name for yourself in software development—the type of name that can help you secure employment—focus your attention on making quality contributions to open-source projects. This is where the people who matter look for talent.
For a mission-driven project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.
The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you,” is a strategy well suited for acquiring career capital.
In 2009, when she was profiled for the Times, she was on track to make only $15,000 for the year. Toward the conclusion of the profile, Feuer sends the reporter a text message: “I’m at the food stamp office now, waiting.” It’s signed: “Sent from my iPhone.”
Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you
Little Bets, and it was written by a former venture capitalist named Peter Sims
If a young Steve Jobs had taken his own advice and decided to only pursue work he loved, we would probably find him today as one of the Los Altos Zen Center’s most popular teachers
[Deliberate practice] requires good goals.
He stretched his abilities by taking on projects that were beyond his current comfort zone; and not just one at a time, but often up to three or four writing commissions concurrently, all the while holding down a day job! He then obsessively sought feedback, on everything—even if, looking back now, he’s humiliated at the quality of scripts he was sending out. This is textbook deliberate practice
If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”
Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…. Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.
The advantage of open gates is that they get you farther faster, in terms of career capital acquisition, than starting from scratch. It helps to think about skill acquisition like a freight train: Getting it started requires a huge application of effort, but changing its track once it’s moving is easy. In other words, it’s hard to start from scratch in a new field.
Let’s assume you’re a knowledge worker, which is a field without a clear training philosophy. If you can figure out how to integrate deliberate practice into your own life, you have the possibility of blowing past your peers in your value, as you’ll likely be alone in your dedication to systematically getting better. That is, deliberate practice might provide the key to quickly becoming so good they can’t ignore you.
One could argue that luck also played an important role in Mike’s story. He was, for example, lucky to find a personal connection to a venture capitalist and then to hit it off when they met in person. But these types of small breaks are common.
in most jobs you should expect your employer to resist your move toward more control; they have every incentive to try to convince you to reinvest your career capital back into your career at their company, obtaining more money and prestige instead of more control, and this can be a hard argument to resist.
This example of joint discovery surprised me, but it would not have surprised the science writer Steven Johnson. In his engaging 2010 book, Where Good Ideas Come From, Johnson explains that such “multiples” are frequent in the history of science.1
The next big ideas in any field are found right beyond the current cutting edge, in the adjacent space that contains the possible new combinations of existing ideas. The reason important discoveries often happen multiple times, therefore, is that they only become possible once they enter the adjacent possible, at which point anyone surveying this space—that is, those who are the current cutting edge—will notice the same innovations waiting to happen.
innovation is more systematic. We grind away to expand the cutting edge, opening up new problems in the adjacent possible to tackle and therefore expand the cutting edge some more, opening up more new problems, and so on. “The truth,” Johnson explains, “is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible.”
Telling someone to “follow their passion” is not just an act of innocent optimism, but potentially the foundation for a career riddled with confusion and angst.
SDT tells us that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs—factors described as the “nutriments” required to feel intrinsically motivated for your work: Autonomy: the feeling that you have control over your day, and that your actions are important Competence: the feeling that you are good at what you do Relatedness: the feeling of connection to other people
How can we follow our passions if we don’t have any relevant passions to follow?
follow your passion—is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people actually end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse: leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when, as it did for Thomas, one’s reality inevitably falls short of the dream.
you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.
Donald T. HawkinsBuy on Amazon
Some experiments on digitizing boxes of archival materials received at the Internet Archive (archive.org) revealed a cost of approximately 25 cents per page, or rather $
Commercial services such as GeoCities, Apple MobileMe, Yahoo! Video, Google Video, and many other sites have vanished from the online world, and only snapshots in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (archive.org/web/web.php) provide ongoing read-only access.
methods are being developed that would collect our digital legacy from websites and services.
The works of yesterday’s eminent individuals are rapidly being digitized, and there is a growing expectation that all of humanity’s creative works are or will be instantly accessible in digital form.
personal digital archives are collections of digital material created, collected, and curated by individuals rather than institutions.
What’s needed are “pay once/store forever” services. These are not yet widely available, though a few universities now offer them to faculty. This pricing model seems likely to become more common, in part because agencies that fund scientific research and cultural production are requiring their grantees to provide a plan to preserve project data.
while personal digital archives may be something we use while we are living, much of their value (or promise) is in their ability to allow communication with our descendants.
With a “pay once/store forever” cost model, individuals might be able endow a terabyte, rather like the more common “buy a brick” programs museums and others have used for years. Universities might also provide a terabyte with tuition and thus tie their alumni into the university in a much deeper way.
New interfaces that include better timelines, maps, social network diagrams, automatic indexing, and data extraction technologies for face, voice, and handwriting recognition are other examples of technologies that will probably be developed for other markets but will also be useful to personal archivists.
library patrons and staff members alike are able to find what they are looking for in a collection and locate similar materials using the catalog, and they can even visit other repositories that follow the same standards and continue their search without facing a learning curve.
“Digital records are more like an oral tradition than traditional documents,” Paul-Choudhury contends. “If you don’t copy them regularly, they simply disappear.”7
Under the U.S. copyright statute, 17 U.S.C. Section 105, copyright protection is not available in the United States for any work of the U.S. Government. Therefore, this chapter is in the public domain.
National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Its goal was and is to foster digital preservation research, collaboration, and standardization among government agencies, cultural institutions, and other stakeholders.
Select the nicest ones, the ones worth keeping, and delete the rest. Does anyone really need 50 photos of clouds or 200 photos of autumn leaves? Blurry, unrecognizable photos? Delete them. Homework from 10 years ago? Delete it. Be decisive and thorough. Whittle the mass of photos down to the best, the “keepers.” Toss out document drafts. Clear the clutter.
Most institutions replicate their digital collections in a separate geographic location far away from the source collection. In the event of a disaster, the distant, replicated collection will be safe, intact, and accessible, backed up on tape or spinning disk drives.
personal files should be backed up in separate locations on at least two different types of storage devices.
move your collection to a new storage device every 5–7 years.
the Library created a personal digital archiving section on the digitalpreservation.gov website and populated it with instructional videos, downloadable brochures, and topic-oriented pages. We wrote about how to archive the most common digital possessions:
For a listing of websites providing digital memorials, posthumous email services, and digital estate services, check out Evan Carroll’s The Digital Beyond (www.thedigitalbeyond.com/online-services-list).
Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell at Microsoft Research are the authors of Total Recall, a fascinating book published in 2009,1 in which they discuss various ways that all of the information we come into contact with can be captured and retrieved, either by the original owner or long after the owner’s life ends.
Gemmell posts a very useful list of businesses offering software to support “life-logging” on his blog (jimgemmell.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/your-life-uploaded-2011-report-card-4
“Companies are good at building new technologies for recording and for metadata extraction, but they are not trustworthy long-term custodians…. Preservation needs to evolve in tandem with recording.”
the first photograph showing a living person is a street scene taken in Paris in 1838.
Fortunately, Google also makes a copy on tape that is stored offline, so it was eventually able to restore the lost accounts
Project MUSE (Memories USing Email; mobisocial.stanford.edu/muse) is a research project at Stanford University’s Mobile and Social (MobiSocial) Computing Research Group that is studying the analysis of long-term email archives.
To learn more about the possibilities, check out www.larryjordan.biz/picking-the-right-video-format-for-storage
(Those who wish to contribute their movies to the Internet Archive should read the conditions and procedures at archive.org/about/faqs.php#224
email as a “master key” to the decedent’s accounts.
Yahoo! refuses to allow anyone access to a Yahoo! email account, even in event of the account holder’s death.
designers and researchers such as Richard Banks are presently developing interfaces that will allow future generations to more naturally interact with the large amount of digital information that individuals will likely leave behind in the future
it helps to think about personal archives as something live, as resources, as material we (and others) might draw on in both the near future and long-term. In other words, personal archives (and archives in general) will become sources for future creative efforts. Reuse is an important motivation for maintaining a personal archive.
it helps to think about personal archives as something live, as resources, as material we (and others) might draw on in both the near future and long-term. In other words, personal archives (and archives in general) will become sources for future creative efforts. Reuse is an important motivation for maintaining a personal archive.
“3 - 2 - 1 rule”: Make 3 copies. Save at least 2 onto different types of storage media. Save 1 in a different location from where you live.
It is important to let a loved one know where important documents reside and supply them with URLs and passwords,
Smith developed Lifemap, which uses the Amazon web service (AWS) for storing and managing users’ memories, and designed a user-friendly graphical user interface.
CrystalChat, used a 3D-representational model of personal instant messenger history to “reveal the patterns and to support self-exploration of one’s personal chat history.”13
Physical things take up space, of course, and, as we described earlier, that fact can encourage us to make decisions about where each belongs, even if that means they no longer belong with us and have to be discarded. The use of space can reflect something about an object’s meaning in our lives. Arranging items in a public space in our home, putting things on display, raises some items above others.
One feature we enabled with the Timecard device was the ability to add reference material. Using Wikipedia, the author of the timeline can search for contextual material (details about world events, for example) to add as a complement to the more personal content. On my grandfather’s timeline, I added references to events he may have been involved in, such as the Battle of Britain (a famous skirmish involving the Royal Air Force), so I had a sense of broader occurrences that may have affected his life directly.
A gold-medal winner at the Olympics can earn millions of dollars in endorsements, while the silver medal winner—let alone the person who placed tenth or thirtieth—is quickly forgotten, even if the difference is measured in tenths of a second and could have resulted from a gust of wind or a lucky bounce of the ball.
a software programmer who writes a slightly better mapping application—one that loads a little faster, has slightly more complete data, or prettier icons—might completely dominate a market. There would likely be little, if any, demand for the tenth-best mapping application, even it got the job done almost as well. This is relative performance. People will not spend time or effort on the tenth-best product when they have access to the best. And this is not a case where quantity can make up for quality: ten mediocre mapping tools are no substitute for one good one. When consumers care mostly about relative performance, even a small difference in skill or effort or luck can lead to a thousand-fold or million-fold difference in earnings. There were a lot of traffic apps in the marketplace in 2013, but Google only judged one, Waze, worth buying for over one billion dollars
Robert Frank and Philip Cook note in their book, The Winner-Take-All Society, “When a sergeant makes a mistake only the platoon suffers, but when a general makes a mistake the whole army suffers.”
As a controversial Nike ad noted, you don’t win silver, you lose gold
Michael Spence, in his brilliant book The Next Convergence, explains how the integration of global markets is leading to enormous dislocations, especially in labor markets
In the long run, the biggest effect of automation is likely to be on workers not in America and other developed nations, but rather in developing nations that currently rely on low-cost labor for their competitive advantage
once an industry becomes largely automated, the case for locating a factory in a low-wage country becomes less compelling
when demand is very elastic, greater productivity leads to enough of an increase in demand that more labor ends up employed. The possibility of this happening for some types of energy has been called the Jevons paradox: more energy efficiency can sometimes lead to greater total energy consumption. But to economists there is no paradox, just an inevitable implication of elastic demand.
Arthur C. Clarke is purported to have put it, “The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.”24
If you look at the types of tasks that have been offshored in the past twenty years, you see that they tend to be relatively routine, well-structured tasks. Interestingly, these are precisely the tasks that are easiest to automate. If you can give precise instructions to someone else on exactly what needs to be done, you can often write a precise computer program to do the same task. In other words, offshoring is often only a way station on the road to automation
The lesson from economics and business strategy is that you don’t want to compete against close substitutes, especially if they have a cost advantage.
A second lesson of economics and business strategy is that it’s great to be a complement to something that’s increasingly plentiful.
If a worker in China can do the same work as an American, then what economists call “the law of one price” demands that they earn essentially the same wages, because the market will arbitrage away differences just as it would for other commodities
If neither the worker nor any entrepreneur can think of a profitable task that requires that worker’s skills and capabilities, then that worker will go unemployed indefinitely. Over history, this has happened to many other inputs to production that were once valuable, from whale oil to horse labor. They are no longer needed in today’s economy even at zero price. In other words, just as technology can create inequality, it can also create unemployment. And in theory, this can affect a large number of people, even a majority of the population, and even if the overall economic pie is growing.
as long as there are unmet needs and wants in the world, unemployment is a loud warning that we simply aren’t thinking hard enough about what needs doing. We aren’t being creative enough about solving the problems we have using the freed-up time and energy of the people whose old jobs were automated away. We can do more to invent technologies and business models that augment and amplify the unique capabilities of humans to create new sources of value, instead of automating the ones that already exist
cooks, gardeners, repairmen, carpenters, dentists, and home health aides are not about to be replaced by machines in the short term. All of these professions involve a lot of sensorimotor work, and many of them also require the skills of ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, and complex communication. Not all of these jobs are well paying, but they’re also not subject to a head-to-head race against the machine. They may, however, be subject to more competition among people.
the career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that’s getting cheap and plentiful. Examples include data scientists, writers of mobile phone apps, and genetic counselors, who have come into demand as more people have their genes sequenced. Bill Gates has said that he chose to go into software when he saw how cheap and ubiquitous computers, especially microcomputers, were becoming. Jeff Bezos systematically analyzed the bottlenecks and opportunities created by low-cost online commerce, particularly the ability to index large numbers of products, before he set up Amazon. Today, the cognitive skills of college graduates—including not only science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called STEM disciplines, but also humanities, arts, and social sciences—are often complements to low-cost data and cheap computer power. This helps them command a premium wage.
Montessori classrooms emphasize self-directed learning, hands-on engagement with a wide variety of materials (including plants and animals), and a largely unstructured school day. And in recent years they’ve produced alumni including the founders of Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), Amazon (Jeff Bezos), and Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales).
Sometimes, one man’s creativity is another machine’s brute-force analysis
Arum, Roksa, and their colleagues document that college students today spend only 9 percent of their time studying (compared to 51 percent on “socializing, recreating, and other”), much less than in previous decades, and that only 42 percent reported having taken a class the previous semester that required them to read at least forty pages a week and write at least twenty pages total. They write that, “The portrayal of higher education emerging from [this research] is one of an institution focused more on social than academic experiences. Students spend very little time studying, and professors rarely demand much from them in terms of reading and writing.”
As futurist Kevin Kelly put it “You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.”7
The top performer in the course at Stanford, in fact, was only the 411th best among all the online students. As Thrun put it, “We just found over 400 people in the world who outperformed the top Stanford student.”16
Ideation in its many forms is an area today where humans have a comparative advantage over machines. Scientists come up with new hypotheses. Journalists sniff out a good story. Chefs add a new dish to the menu. Engineers on a factory floor figure out why a machine is no longer working properly. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple figure out what kind of tablet computer we actually want. Many of these activities are supported and accelerated by computers, but none are driven by them.
people will need to be more adaptable and flexible in their career aspirations, ready to move on from areas that become subject to automation, and seize new opportunities where machines complement and augment human capabilities.
the impact of college is largely determined by individual effort and involvement in the academic, interpersonal, and extracurricular offerings on a campus
Replacing a [bottom 5 percent] teacher with an average teacher would increase the present value of students’ lifetime income by more than $250,000 for the average classroom in our sample.
most economists advocate taxing the pollution. Such taxes are called “Pigovian” after Arthur Pigou, a British economist of the early twentieth century who was one of their early champions
we can expect to see schools ‘flip the classroom’ by having students listen to lectures at home and work through traditional ‘homework’—exercises, problem sets, and writing assignments—in school, where peers, teachers, and coaches are available to help them.
By some estimates, the revenues from optimal congestion pricing would be enough to eliminate all state taxes in California.
Give one group of teachers responsibility for the most measurable goals, while reserving ample time and resources for teachers focusing on the less measurable types of learning, protecting it from being crowded out.
When technology advances too quickly for education to keep up, inequality generally rises.
Venkat Venkatraman put it, “We need digital models of learning and teaching. Not just a technology overlay on old modes of teaching and learning.”
Congestion pricing, aided by electronic passes or digital cameras, can dynamically adjust the cost of the roadway so that drivers would only choose to drive when the total cost created, including the additional congestion, was less than the value of their trip.
The good news is that compared to other industries such as media, retailing, finance, or manufacturing, education is a tremendous laggard in the use of technology. That’s good news because it means we can expect big gains simply by catching up to other industries. Innovators can make a huge difference in this area in the coming decade.
Lengthening the school year may be especially beneficial for poor kids, since research suggests that rich and poor children learn at a similar rate when school is in session, but that poor children fall behind over the summer when they are not in school
increasing the number of immigrant engineers actually leads to higher, not lower, wages for native-born engineers because immigrants help creative ecosystems flourish
English-American political activist Thomas Paine, who advocated in his 1797 pamphlet Agrarian Justice that everyone should be given a lump sum of money upon reaching adulthood to compensate for the unjust fact that some people were born into landowning families while others were not
Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote in 1967, “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective—the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”3
While income taxes are not meant to discourage work and employment, they can still have this effect. Payroll taxes can lead to similar shifts, and by design mainly affect people with low and middle incomes.20 They can cause organizations to move away from hiring additional domestic employees, and instead outsource work or make use of part-time contractors. As digital technologies keep acquiring new skills and capabilities, these same organizations will increasingly have another option: they’ll be able to make use of digital laborers rather than humans. The more expensive human labor is, the more readily employers will switch over to machines. And since payroll taxes make human labor more expensive, they’ll very likely have the effect of hastening this switch. Mandates like employer-provided health care coverage have the same effect; they too appear as a tax on human labor and so discourages it, all other things being equal.21
Pay people via nonprofits and other organizations to do ‘socially beneficial’ tasks, as determined by a democratic process
Voltaire beautifully summarized why not when he made the observation quoted at the start of this chapter: “Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.”6 A guaranteed universal income takes care of need, but not the other two. And just about all the research and evidence we’ve looked at has convinced us that Voltaire was right. It’s tremendously important for people to work not just because that’s how they get their money, but also because it’s one of the principal ways they get many other important things: self-worth, community, engagement, healthy values, structure, and dignity, to name just a few.
Winston Churchill said that, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”2 We believe the same about capitalism.
Start a ‘made by humans’ labeling movement, similar to those now in place for organic foods, or award credits for companies that employ humans, similar to the carbon offsets that can be purchased. If some consumers wanted to increase the demand for human workers, such labels or credits would let them do so
Our success will depend not just on our technological choices, or even on the coinvention of new organizations and institutions. As we have fewer constraints on what we can do, it is then inevitable that our values will matter more than ever. Will we choose to have information widely disseminated or tightly controlled? Will our prosperity be broadly shared? What will be the nature and magnitude of rewards we give to our innovators? Will we build vibrant relationships and communities? Will everyone have the opportunities to discover, create, and enjoy the best of life?
The Industrial Revolution was accompanied by soot-filled London skies and horrific exploitation of child labor. What will be their modern equivalents? Rapid and accelerating digitization is likely to bring economic rather than environmental disruption, stemming from the fact that as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. Technological progress is going to leave behind some people, perhaps even a lot of people, as it races ahead. As we’ll demonstrate, there’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate.
Designed for calculation-intensive tasks like simulating nuclear tests, ASCI Red was the first computer to score above one teraflop—one trillion floating point operations* per second—on the standard benchmark test for computer speed.
digital information is not “used up” when it gets used, and it is extremely cheap to make another copy of a digitized resource.
Watson’s database, which consisted of approximately two hundred million pages of documents taking up four terabytes of disk space, included an entire copy of Wikipedia. For a while it also included the salty language–filled Urban Dictionary, but this archive of user-generated content was removed after, to the dismay of its creators, Watson started to include curse words in its responses.
“I keep saying that the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding.”
“A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker”
The better machines become at substituting for human labor, the bigger negative effect any tax or mandate will have on human employment.
Research by Michael Luca of Harvard Business School has found that the increased transparency has helped smaller independent restaurants compete with bigger chains because customers can more quickly find quality food via rating services like Yelp, reducing their reliance on brand names’ expensive marketing campaigns.17
for the first time since before the Great Depression, over half the total income in the United States went to the top 10 percent of Americans in 2012. The top 1 percent earned over 22 percent of income, more than doubling their share since the early 1980s. The share of income going to the top hundredth of one percent of Americans, a few thousand people with annual incomes over $11 million, is now at 5.5 percent, after increasing more between 2011 and 2012 than any year since 1927–28
OF THE 3.5 TRILLION photos that have been snapped since the first image of a busy Parisian street in 1838, fully 10 percent were taken in the last year.1
Facebook itself reached one billion users in 2012. It had about 4,600 employees6 including barely 1,000 engineers.7 Contrast these figures with pre-digital behemoth Kodak, which also helped customers share billions of photos. Kodak employed 145,300 people at one point
Nine years later another computer hit 1.8 teraflops. But instead of simulating nuclear explosions, it was devoted to drawing them and other complex graphics in all their realistic, real-time, three-dimensional glory. It did this not for physicists, but for video game players. This computer was the Sony PlayStation 3, which matched the ASCI Red in performance, yet cost about five hundred dollars, took up less than a tenth of a square meter, and drew about two hundred watts.
Once one concedes that it takes time for workers and organizations to adjust to technical change, then it becomes apparent that accelerating technical change can lead to widening gaps and increasing possibilities for technological unemployment. Faster technological progress may ultimately bring greater wealth and longer lifespans, but it also requires faster adjustments by both people and institutions.
Research by Michael Luca of Harvard Business School has found that the increased transparency has helped smaller independent restaurants compete with bigger chains because customers can more quickly find quality food via rating services like Yelp, reducing their reliance on brand names’ expensive marketing campaigns.17
for the first time since before the Great Depression, over half the total income in the United States went to the top 10 percent of Americans in 2012. The top 1 percent earned over 22 percent of income, more than doubling their share since the early 1980s. The share of income going to the top hundredth of one percent of Americans, a few thousand people with annual incomes over $11 million, is now at 5.5 percent, after increasing more between 2011 and 2012 than any year since 1927–28
OF THE 3.5 TRILLION photos that have been snapped since the first image of a busy Parisian street in 1838, fully 10 percent were taken in the last year.1
The shift from analog to digital has delivered a bounty of digital photos and other goods, but it has also contributed to an income distribution that is far more spread out than before.
For almost two hundred years, wages did increase alongside productivity. This created a sense of inevitability that technology helped (almost) everyone. But more recently, median wages have stopped tracking productivity, underscoring the fact that such a decoupling is not only a theoretical possibility but also an empirical fact in our current economy.
Facebook itself reached one billion users in 2012. It had about 4,600 employees6 including barely 1,000 engineers.7 Contrast these figures with pre-digital behemoth Kodak, which also helped customers share billions of photos. Kodak employed 145,300 people at one point
The shift from analog to digital has delivered a bounty of digital photos and other goods, but it has also contributed to an income distribution that is far more spread out than before.
For almost two hundred years, wages did increase alongside productivity. This created a sense of inevitability that technology helped (almost) everyone. But more recently, median wages have stopped tracking productivity, underscoring the fact that such a decoupling is not only a theoretical possibility but also an empirical fact in our current economy.
Helaine Olen and Harold PollackBuy on Amazon
Save 10 to 20 percent of your money—or as much as you can, if you can’t put that much aside. Pay your credit card balance in full every month. Invest in low-cost index funds.
Harold offhandedly noted that the fundamental dilemma facing the financial services industry is that the correct advice for most people fits on a three-by-five-inch index card and is available for free at the library.
There is a whole industry of financial services advisors out there who make their living by convincing you that it’s naive to believe that simplicity, common sense, and restraint are potent enough weapons with which to deal with the whirlwind of financial chaos facing any of us on any given day.
the more the wealthier people at the top of the income ladder spend on high-status luxury goods, the greater the pressure to keep up across the income spectrum. This “trickle-down consumption,” as they call it, reduces the savings rates for all too many of us.
47 percent of us report that we could not come up with $400 if we needed to without selling something, resorting to increased credit card debt, borrowing from a friend or relative, or taking out a payday loan.
To build your emergency fund, start stashing away three months of living expenses in an accessible savings account.
Average credit card debt per U.S. household now exceeds $7,000. But it’s actually worse than that. A little more than half of us manage to pay off our credit card bill in full every month. The rest of us? Take the financial Boy Scouts out of the picture, and the remaining households owe an average of more than $15,000.
It’s almost certain the secret to our grandparents’ extraordinary financial discipline was a result of the four Ls: lack of access to credit layaway plans loved ones loan sharks
the real money for credit card issuers is in making sure people who can’t or don’t pay off their bills in full load up on credit, then charging them for the privilege. As a result, they don’t want you to manage your money responsibly.
There is no better way to simplify and gain control over your financial life than by eliminating high-interest debt. So pay off your credit card and other high-interest loans ASAP. For most of us, this is by far the best investment opportunity we’ll ever receive.
PAY MORE THAN THE MINIMUM
Pay your credit card in full—like one-third of all customers—and you are indeed receiving an interest-free loan.
The fastest way of ending your debt drama and getting off the debt treadmill is to devote your resources to paying down the bill with the highest interest rate while paying the required minimum on the rest. When you’ve retired that bill, you move on to the debt with the next-highest interest rate.
Companies like the Lending Club use sophisticated algorithms to determine who is most likely to pay the money back versus who is in danger of defaulting. It’s a great deal—if you can get it. Unfortunately, many are not able to utilize this method. The people who need help the least are the most likely to get it, thanks to those algorithms.
You should always borrow from the federal government first. Why? Federal loans offer much more flexibility than privately issued loans.
The Department of Education provides an informative website, StudentAid .ed.gov, that runs through the options and fine print on student loans and where to go for help.
consolidating federal student loans is, in the vast majority of cases, a onetime offer. There are no do-overs, unless you return to school and acquire more federal student debt. The best place to begin the process of figuring out if consolidation is right for you is to check out the Department of Education’s website.
Do not combine federal and private student loans. Why? Once again, federal loans provide more flexibility in the event of financial hardship, and you will lose those benefits if you consolidate those loans with a private lender.
if you can’t keep up, don’t be an ostrich! Don’t go into default; that is, don’t simply stop paying your monthly bill. The penalty fees will pile up fast. Instead, look for help. A good place to start is the website of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ConsumerFinance.gov, or the Department of Education.
NEVER, EVER FORGO THE EMPLOYER MATCH
If your employer offers a retirement account with a match, this is likely the best shot you will ever get at earning money for doing absolutely nothing. Don’t turn it down.
you can put up to $5,500 into an IRA and another $1,000 if you are over fifty. The traditional IRA offers an immediate tax deduction, and the money grows tax-free, but withdrawals in retirement will be taxed as though they were earned income, like a 401(k).
If you have a side gig or you operate your own business, you should open a Simplified Employee Pension IRA (SEP-IRA), which offers similar tax advantages. You can contribute 25 percent of your self-employment income to your SEP-IRA, up to a high limit that in 2015 totaled $53,000.
myRA. Employees who work for firms that do not offer a retirement investing plan are eligible to contribute through direct deposit. The money is invested in guaranteed, low-expense, low-interest government funds. Your myRA balance is capped at $15,000. When you surpass that amount, the money will be moved to a financial services account.
If you are financially stretched, consider taking an immediate deduction with the traditional IRA. You can use the savings to pay down credit card debt or pursue some other long-term goal. If you feel more financially secure, go for the Roth.
You can withdraw money with no penalty to pay for college tuition and medical bills—provided, that is, your unreimbursed bills total more than 10 percent of your income. You can also take $10,000 out to be used toward the purchase of a home.
you are allowed to “borrow” your own money from a 401(k) for up to five years before you are subject to withdrawal penalties.
The vast amount of money in retirement accounts is shielded from creditors in the event of bankruptcy.
College financial aid offices often exclude retirement accounts when determining how much a family can afford to pay for college.
IF YOU CHANGE JOBS, DON’T CHANGE RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS
Not only will individual stock picking not lead you to beat the market, but it will likely leave you behind—possibly way behind.
Men tend to achieve lower returns than women. It’s not because the ladies are better at stock picking. Rather, women are better at not picking stocks than men. As a result, ladies trade less, saving money on investment fees and boosting their returns. Your great advantage as an investor is that you can be boring and methodical, rising with the overall market and not wasting money on costly trading that tends to underperform the market.
CNBC’s entire business model is based on encouraging individual stock picking.
One academic analysis found the best way to make money off his show was to immediately short (that is, bet against) any stock he screams viewers should buy. That’s not totally because Cramer doesn’t get the fundamentals, by the way.
Alternative investments tend to be highly subject to trends, manias, and erratic or dramatic price swings. They bring unpredictability into your life. You don’t need that.
Buy and hold a small selection of indexed mutual or exchange-traded funds for the long haul.
Buffett published a letter to his two sons and one daughter saying how he thought they should invest when he was no longer here. His suggestion? “A very low-cost S&P 500 index fund.”
There are two ways to invest in index funds. The first is via a mutual fund. The second is what is called an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
Exchange-traded funds almost always have lower expense ratios but higher trading costs than mutual funds.
The sooner you think you need the money, the less risk you should assume.
if you are twenty-five years old and this is your retirement savings, an aggressive growth strategy is likely better.
Seventy percent: A good S&P 500 index fund.
Fifteen percent: A small-cap index fund such as the Russell 2000 Index.
Fifteen percent: A broad-based international fund like Vanguard’s Total International Stock Index Fund. You will want an international fund that has access to both developed—think Europe and parts of Asia—and emerging—think South America, Africa, and other parts of Asia—markets. Make sure that you choose an international fund and not a “global” fund.
we recommend that your bond allocation roughly equal your age.
A long-term bond index fund will suffice.
if you don’t own a house, condo, or other property, you might want to consider putting a small percentage—maybe 5 to 10 percent—of your money into a real estate investment trust index fund, also known as a REIT.
A fiduciary is a financial advisor who has a legal and regulatory duty to put your interests ahead of his or her own.
“If it’s free, you are the product.”
women were treated resoundingly worse than men and were more likely to receive financial advice from someone who didn’t even bother to ask about their overall financial profile.
There is only one way to avoid falling victim to a fee-based advisor. Never assume someone is a fiduciary. Never assume he doesn’t ever work for commissions. Always ask.
You need to ask and ask quite specifically: Do you work to the fiduciary standard at all times? This last part, “at all times,” is important.
Never mind asking about the fiduciary standard. “Ask them to sign an oath stating they will act as fiduciaries,”
Check most brokers at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. If you are thinking of working with a certified financial planner, the CFP Board maintains disciplinary records on its members. State regulatory authorities also maintain databases.
Currently, half of renters in the United States are paying more than the recommended 30 percent of income for their housing,
The best type of insurance to protect your loved ones, at the least cost to your pocketbook, is called term insurance.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has a fantastic, somewhat-less-forbidding webpage, “Understanding Health Insurance” (http://kff.org/understanding -health-insurance/), that answers frequently asked questions and lets you know what is available in your area.
Nothing—and we mean nothing—can send you into bankruptcy faster than the lack of health coverage.
We think longevity annuities are a great idea, provided it is a fixed annuity.
What you want to avoid are variable annuities and equity annuities, which are also called indexed annuities.
Most car insurance policies cover rental cars, so you probably don’t need to pay for that when you rent a car.
When it comes to life insurance, stick with term. When it comes to property insurance, the higher the deductible the better. Always double-check that your hospital and doctor are on your health insurance plan. Adequate liability coverage is at least twice your net worth. Avoid complicated annuities. Keep an emergency fund.
When Christopher Davis learned that the Soviets were developing a genetically modified, antibiotic-resistant strain of plague, he interpreted it to mean one thing. “You choose plague because you’re going to take out the other person’s country,” Davis said. “Kill all the people, then move in and take over the land. Full stop. That’s what it is about.”
In 1996, the CIA provided President Clinton with reports on the biological weapons programs believed to be in existence inside North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria—all still classified in 2015.
If DARPA is the Pentagon’s brain, defense contractors are its beating heart. President Eisenhower said that the only way Americans could keep defense contractors in check was through knowledge. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
One of the ultimate goals of Chimera, Alibek said, was to create a monster hybrid of smallpox and Ebola. Alibek warned his handlers that the Soviets had sold secrets about genetically modified bioweapons to Libya, Iran, Iraq, India, Cuba, and former Soviet bloc countries in eastern Europe.
Marshall served as director of the Office of Net Assessment, created by the Nixon White House in 1973 and dedicated to forecasting future wars.
There was a loophole to be explored, Teller suggested. “Explosions below a kiloton cannot be detected and identified by any of the methods considered realistic by any of the delegations at the Geneva Conference,” he wrote. The United States could secretly conduct low-yield tests. Yes, it would be cheating, but the Russians could not be trusted, and surely they would cheat too.
Most historical accounts of the use of nonlethal weapons in the United States cite the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 as a turning point. The act established the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Justice designed to assist state police forces across the nation in upgrading their riot control hardware and officer-training programs. The act also provided $12 billion in funding over a period of ten years. Police forces across America began upgrading their military-style equipment to include riot control systems, helicopters, grenade launchers, and machine guns. The LEAA famously gave birth to the special weapons and tactics concept, or SWAT, with the first units created in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. “These units,” says an LAPD historian, “provided security for police facilities during civil unrest.” But what has not been established before this book is that much of this equipment was researched and developed by ARPA in the jungles of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War.
In one instance, a group of Iraqi soldiers stepped out from a hiding place and waved the white flag of surrender at the eye of a television camera attached to a drone that was hovering nearby. This became the first time in history that a group of enemy soldiers was recorded surrendering to a machine.
In 1963, weather modification was still legal.
It was a defining moment in the history of weapons development and the future of man and machine. A computer had reported that a thousand-strong Soviet ICBM attack was under way. And a human, in this case Air Marshal Charles Roy Slemon, used his judgment to intervene and to overrule. At J-Site, the ARPA 474L System Program Office worked with technicians to teach the BMEWS computers to reject echoes from the moon.
ARPA engineers in Licklider’s Behavioral Sciences Program office believed that computers could be used to model social behavior. Data could be collected and algorithms could be designed to analyze the data and to build models. This led Licklider to another seminal idea. What if, based on the data collected, you could get the computer to predict human behavior? If man can predict, he can control.
Taylor left Herzfeld’s office and headed back to his own. He later recalled the astonishment he felt when he looked at his watch. “Jesus Christ,” he thought. “That only took twenty minutes.” Even more consequential was the idea of network redundancy—making sure no single computer could take the system down—that emerged from that meeting. It is why in 2015, no one organization, corporation, or nation can own or completely control the global system of interconnected computer networks known as the Internet. To think it came out of that one meeting, on the fly.
Gouré’s particular area of expertise was post-apocalypse civil defense
The RAND report was called “Combat in Hell: A Consideration of Constrained Urban Warfare.” It began with the prescient words: “Historical advice is consistent. Sun Tzu counseled that ‘the worst policy is to attack cities.’” Accordingly, avoid urban warfare.
Goldblatt hired a biotechnology firm to develop a pain vaccine. “It works with the body’s inflammatory response that is responsible for pain,” Goldblatt explained in 2014. The way the vaccine would work is that, if a soldier got shot, he would experience “ten to thirty seconds of agony then no pain for thirty days.
Is the world transforming into a war zone and America into a police state, and is it DARPA that is making them so?
The person largely responsible for connecting these nodes was an electrical engineer named Robert Kahn. At the time, Kahn called what he was working on an “internetwork.” Soon it would be shortened to Internet.
Charles Townes said to me, and I mentioned it earlier in this book, was that he was personally inspired to invent the laser after reading the science-fiction novel The Garin Death Ray, written by Alexei Tolstoi in 1926. It is remarkable to think how powerful a force science fiction can be. That fantastic, seemingly impossible ideas can inspire people like Charles Townes to invent things that totally transform the real world.
Whales and dolphins don’t sleep; as mammals, they would drown if they did. Unlike humans, they are somehow able to control the lobes of their left and right brains so that while one lobe sleeps, the opposite lobe stays awake, allowing the animal to swim
Given advances in the technology of detection, American and Soviet scientists now agreed that it was possible to cease nuclear testing. If one side cheated, they would be caught.
INSCOM’s commanding officer, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. At Fort Belvoir, Alexander ran his operations out of a facility known as the Information Dominance Center, with an unusual interior design that deviated significantly from traditional military decor. The Information Dominance Center had been designed by Academy Award–winning Hollywood set designer Bran Ferren to simulate the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, from the Star Trek television and film series. There were ovoid-shaped chairs, computer stations inside highly polished chrome panels, even doors that slid open with a whooshing sound. Alexander would sit in the leather captain’s chair, positioned in the center of the command post, where he could face the Information Dominance Center’s twenty-four-foot television monitor. General Alexander loved the science-fiction genre. INSCOM staff even wondered if the general fancied himself a real-life Captain Kirk.
during the war on terror, the Pentagon began seeking ideas from science-fiction writers, most notably a civilian organization called the SIGMA group
DARPA makes the future happen. Industry, public health, society, and culture all transform because of technology that DARPA pioneers. DARPA creates, DARPA dominates, and when sent to the battlefield, DARPA destroys.
Climate change is, and always has been, “a driver of wars,” he believed. Drought, pestilence, flood, and famine push people to the limits of human survival, often resulting in war for control over what few resources remain.
The ability to genetically engineer pathogens had raised the threat level. For use as a weapon, the possibilities were limitless. “If you were to mix Ebola with the communicability of measles to create a pathogen that would continue to alter itself in such a way to evade treatment,” wrote Block, the rate of Ebola’s transmission and infectivity would skyrocket.
A revolution is not a revolution unless it comes with an element of surprise.
For the Pentagon, the antiwar protests were a command and control nightmare. For ARPA it meant the acceleration of a “nonlethal weapons” program to research and develop ways to stop demonstrators through the use of painful but not deadly force.
Licklider envisioned a day when a computer would serve as a human’s “assistant.” The machine would “answer questions, perform simulation modeling, graphically display results, and extrapolate solutions for new situations from past experience.” Like John von Neumann, Licklider saw similarities between the computer and the brain, and he saw a symbiotic relationship between man and machine, one in which man’s burdens, or “rote work,” could be eased by the machine. Humans could then devote their time to making important decisions, Licklider said.
When students learned IDA was still operating on campus, protestors initiated a five-day siege of Von Neumann Hall, spray painting anti-Nixon graffiti across the front of the building, engaging with police officers, and chanting, “Kill the computer!”
Licklider and Taylor co-wrote an essay in 1968 in which they predicted, “In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.” By 2009, more electronic text messages would be sent each day than there were people on the planet.
The way Godel saw it, the French colonialists were trying to fight the Viet Minh guerrillas according to colonial rules of war. But the South Vietnamese, who were receiving weapons and training from the French forces, were actually fighting a different kind of war, based on different rules. Guerrilla warfare was irrational. It was asymmetrical. It was about cutting off the enemy’s head to send a message back home. When, in the spring of 1950, William Godel witnessed guerrilla warfare firsthand in Vietnam, it shifted his perspective on how the United States would need to fight future wars. Guerrilla warfare involved psychological warfare. To Godel, it was a necessary component for a win.
second office at the Pentagon called the Behavioral Sciences Program, an office that would eventually take on much more Orwellian tasks related to surveillance programs. This office grew out of a study originally commissioned by Herb York, titled “Toward a Technology of Human Behavior for Defense Use.” This study examined how computers, or “man-machine systems,” could best be used in conflict zones. The results, today, are far-reaching.
For the general population, real-world lasers, death rays, and directed-energy weapons were scientifically impossible to grasp. Science fiction was not so hard.
in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, there was a fully formed plan in place to keep the president and his cabinet alive. An executive branch version of the Station 70 bunker had recently been completed six miles north of Camp David, just over the Pennsylvania state line. This underground command center, called the Raven Rock Mountain Complex, was buried inside a mountain of granite, giving the president protection equivalent to that of walls a thousand feet thick. The Raven Rock complex, also called Site R, had been designed to withstand a direct hit from a 15-megaton bomb.
Castle Bravo had been built according to the “Teller-Ulam” scheme—named for its co-designers, Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam—which meant, unlike with the far less powerful atomic bomb, this hydrogen bomb had been designed to hold itself together for an extra hundred-millionth of a second, thereby allowing its hydrogen isotopes to fuse and create a chain reaction of nuclear energy, called fusion, producing a potentially infinite amount of power, or yield. “What this meant,” Freedman explains, was that there was “a one-in-one-million chance that, given how much hydrogen [is] in the earth’s atmosphere, when Castle Bravo exploded, it could catch the earth’s atmosphere on fire.
in 2008, the CIA, the NSA, and DARPA launched a covert data-mining effort, called Project Reynard, to track World of Warcraft subscribers and discern how they exist and interact in virtual worlds.
Charles Townes told me that once, long ago, he was sharing his idea for the laser with John von Neumann and that von Neumann told him his idea wouldn’t work. “What did you think about that?” I asked Townes. “If you’re going to do anything new,” he said, “you have to disregard criticism. Most people are against new ideas. They think, ‘If I didn’t think of it, it won’t work.’ Inevitably, people doubt you. You persevere anyway. That’s what you do.” And that was exactly what Charles Townes did. The laser is considered one of the most significant scientific inventions of the modern world.
Michael Goldblatt came to DARPA with a radical vision. He believed that through advanced technology, in twenty or fifty years’ time, human beings could be the “first species to control evolution.
“The occasion was highly informal,” he remembered, in one of the only known written recollections of the meeting. “Maps were spread out on the floor, drinks were served, a dog kept crossing the demilitarized zone as top secret matters were discussed. Even though the subject was the Jason study, I was the only Jason present.” Seymour Deitchman did most of the talking. “It was, you know, a typical social occasion,” MacDonald recalled, except the participants were “just… deciding the next years of the Vietnam War.”
No one said, “But Dark Winter was only a game.” Lines were being blurred. Games were influencing reality. Man was merging with machine. What else would the technological advances of the twenty-first century bring?
human-machine interface, or what the Pentagon calls Human-Robot Interaction
Bye Bye Banks?: How Retail Banks are Being Displaced, Diminished and Disintermediated by Tech Startups - and What They Can Do to Survive.
James HaycockBuy on Amazon
The Deviant in this context who will question the team’s assumptions, rebal against conformity and be willing to ask ‘wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all?’ This was a role that Steve Jobs frequently played at Apple, for example, especially in the company’s early years. Every team should have a deviant.
diversity brings different views to problems as empathetic thinking is more achievable when a broader set of people are represented within the organisation.
In 1997, Jeff Bezos, told investors that Amazon was focused on the long term. He said: ‘If you’re long-term orientated, customer and shareholder interests are aligned. In the short term, that’s not always correct.’ In other words, when companies make decisions based on the next quarter’s results, they are prioritising share price and not value to the customer which may lead to the right outcome for one important stakeholder but potentially a negative one for an ultimately more important group.
Relational Loss39 is a concept that explains the importance of cohesion and relationships in teams. Individuals feel that as teams grow they lose support, which would buffer stressful experiences as well as help encourage positive performance.
AirBnB’s Head of Design, Alex Schleifer, shared the opinion that companies should place at least one person whose sole role is to represent the user in every team.
Social loafing40 is the tendency for individuals to expend less effort when working collaboratively than when working individually
Patty McCord, who was chief talent officer at Netflix from 1998 to 2012, wrote in an article for HBR34: ‘The best thing you can do for employees is hire only “A” players to work alongside them. Excellent colleagues trump everything else.’ To support this belief the company also has a rich severance package that allows it to discharge people who don’t cut it as A players.
This is how the scenario plays out: first, the banks are displaced by new entrants offering better customer experiences and price. Then their revenues are diminished, as they’re relegated to a position of an undifferentiated utility in an environment with higher rates of switching. Finally, the arrival of a new technology, like the blockchain, challenges the banks’ core competency, as the new players bypass their services, disintermediating them entirely.
Microsoft founder’s maxims: ‘We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.’
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and Chief Executive once said: ‘The biggest risk is not taking any risk . . . In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.
MaxMyInterest, a US startup that calls itself the ‘intelligent cash management solution’, demonstrates a similar idea by helping maximise savings returns. The service, which is still at a relatively early stage, helps easily move customer’s money between accounts to get the best interest rate at any point in time.
This is a very big risk. As the offerings of the banks are not that differentiated the relationship with the customer has a very high value, much more, potentially, than any other industries. There’s currently an inertia with getting the customer to move from one bank to another . . . So if one of these startups make it easy for me to go from working with bank A to working with bank B, because in reality, you’ve created a layer on top that allows you to replace the bank on the back end but retain the relationship with the customer on your own, you are in fact destroying my revenue model.
Plaid and Yodlee offer a well designed API for the startups to use albeit it one that currently violates the terms and conditions of the banks.
The objective of Google is not to create a payment solution. The objective of Google is to be able to address the issue that they’re having, which is the cost-per-click model is becoming less transparent of what benefit the advertiser is getting from that click. In the case of Google Wallet, they can say, ‘Well, that customer that browsed X and Y, I can confirm to you that they went and purchased your product and here’s the proof.’
LevelMoney, which launched in 2012, is another US-based PFM which targets millennials looking to pay back student loans and to start saving. The business received $5m investment from VC KPCB and as of January 2015 had 700,000 users before it was acquired by Capital One.
Steve had a remarkable knack for letting go of things that didn’t work. If you were in an argument with him, and you convinced him that you were right, he would instantly change his mind. He didn’t hold on to an idea because he had once believed it to be brilliant. His ego didn’t attach to the suggestions he made, even as he threw his full weight behind them. When Steve saw Pixar’s directors do the same, he recognized them as kindred spirits
The oversight group had been put in place without anyone asking a fundamental question: How do we enable our people to solve problems? Instead, they asked: How do we prevent our people from screwing up? That approach never encourages a creative response. My rule of thumb is that any time we impose limits or procedures, we should ask how they will aid in enabling people to respond creatively. If the answer is that they won’t, then the proposals are ill suited to the task at hand.
I’ve noticed what might be called a “law of subverting successful approaches,” by which I mean once you’ve hit on something that works, don’t expect it to work again, because attendees will know how to manipulate it the second time around
One technique I’ve used to soften the process is to ask everyone in the room to make two lists: the top five things that they would do again and the top five things that they wouldn’t do again. People find it easier to be candid if they balance the negative with the positive, and a good facilitator can make it easier for that balance to be struck.
The very concept of a limit implies that you can’t do everything you want—so we must think of smarter ways to work. Let’s be honest: Many of us don’t make this kind of adjustment until we are required to. Limits force us to rethink how we are working and push us to new heights of creativity.
the shorts accomplished other things for Pixar. People who work on them, for example, get a broader range of experience than they would on a feature, where the sheer scale and complexity of the project demands more specialization among the crew. Because shorts are staffed with fewer people, each employee has to do more things, developing a variety of skills that come in handy down the line. Moreover, working in small groups forges deeper relationships that can carry forward and, in the long term, benefit the company’s future projects
By resisting the beginner’s mind, you make yourself more prone to repeat yourself than to create something new. The attempt to avoid failure, in other words, makes failure more likely.
Everything is changing. All the time. And you can’t stop it. And your attempts to stop it actually put you in a bad place. It causes pain, but we don’t seem to learn from it. Worse than that, resisting change robs you of your beginner’s mind—your openness to the new.
“If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing?” he says. “You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.”
The uncreated is a vast, empty space. This emptiness is so scary that most hold on to what they know, making minor adjustments to what they understand, unable to move on to something unknown.
Quality meant that every aspect—not just the rendering and the storytelling but also the positioning and the marketing—needed to be done well, which meant being open to reasoned opinions, even when they contradicted our own
When costs are low, it’s easier to justify taking a risk. Thus, unless we lowered our costs, we would effectively limit the kinds of films that we would be able to make
Cheaper films are made with smaller crews, and everyone agrees that the smaller the crew, the better the working experience. It’s not just that a leaner crew is closer and more collegial; it’s that on a smaller production it’s easier for people to feel that they’ve made an impact
To keep a creative culture vibrant, we must not be afraid of constant uncertainty. We must accept it, just as we accept the weather. Uncertainty and change are life’s constants. And that’s the fun part.
Here are the qualifications required: The people you choose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. I don’t care who it is, the janitor or the intern or one of your most trusted lieutenants: If they can help you do that, they should be at the table
he thinks to make a great film, its makers must pivot, at some point, from creating the story for themselves to creating it for others.
This principle eludes most people, but it is critical: You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.
A competitive approach measures other ideas against your own, turning the discussion into a debate to be won or lost. An additive approach, on the other hand, starts with the understanding that each participant contributes something (even if it’s only an idea that fuels the discussion—and ultimately doesn’t work).
The more people there are in the room, the more pressure there is to perform well
A manager’s default mode should not be secrecy. What is needed is a thoughtful consideration of the cost of secrecy weighed against the risks. When you instantly resort to secrecy, you are telling people they can’t be trusted. When you are candid, you are telling people that you trust them and that there is nothing to fear. To confide in employees is to give them a sense of ownership over the information. The result—and I’ve seen this again and again—is that they are less likely to leak whatever it is that you’ve confided.
There’s a quick way to determine if your company has embraced the negative definition of failure. Ask yourself what happens when an error is discovered. Do people shut down and turn inward, instead of coming together to untangle the causes of problems that might be avoided going forward? Is the question being asked: Whose fault was this? If so, your culture is one that vilifies failure. Failure is difficult enough without it being compounded by the search for a scapegoat.
The more time you spend mapping out an approach, the more likely you are to get attached to it. The nonworking idea gets worn into your brain, like a rut in the mud. It can be difficult to get free of it and head in a different direction. Which, more often than not, is exactly what you must do.
Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent.
Negative feedback may be fun, but it is far less brave than endorsing something unproven and providing room for it to grow.
In an unhealthy culture, each group believes that if their objectives trump the goals of the other groups, the company will be better off. In a healthy culture, all constituencies recognize the importance of balancing competing desires—they want to be heard, but they don’t have to win. Their interaction with one another—the push and pull that occurs naturally when talented people are given clear goals—yields the balance we seek. But that only happens if they understand that achieving balance is a central goal of the company.
But if every day is sunny and it doesn’t rain, things don’t grow. And if it’s sunny all the time—if, in fact, we don’t ever even have night—all kinds of things don’t happen and the planet dries up. The key is to view conflict as essential, because that’s how we know the best ideas will be tested and survive. You know, it can’t only be sunlight.
I often say that managers of creative enterprises must hold lightly to goals and firmly to intentions. What does that mean? It means that we must be open to having our goals change as we learn new information or are surprised by things we thought we knew but didn’t. As long as our intentions—our values—remain constant, our goals can shift as needed.
Once you master any system, you typically become blind to its flaws; even if you can see them, they appear far too complex and intertwined to consider changing. But to remain blind is to risk becoming the music industry, in which self-interest (trying to protect short-term gains) trumped self-awareness (few people realized that the old system was about to be overtaken altogether). Industry executives clung to their outdated business model—selling albums—until it was too late and file sharing and iTunes had turned everything upside down.
I tend to flood and freeze up if I’m feeling overwhelmed. When this happens, it’s usually because I feel like the world is crashing down and all is lost. One trick I’ve learned is to force myself to make a list of what’s actually wrong. Usually, soon into making the list, I find I can group most of the issues into two or three larger all-encompassing problems. So it’s really not all that bad. Having a finite list of problems is much better than having an illogical feeling that everything is wrong.”
when the British introduced golf to India in the 1820s. Upon building the first golf course there, the Royal Calcutta, the British discovered a problem: Indigenous monkeys were intrigued by the little white balls and would swoop down out of the trees and onto the fairways, picking them up and carrying them off. This was a disruption, to say the least. In response, officials tried erecting fences to keep the monkeys out, but the monkeys climbed right over. They tried capturing and relocating the monkeys, but the monkeys kept coming back. They tried loud noises to scare them away. Nothing worked. In the end, they arrived at a solution: They added a new rule to the game—“Play the ball where the monkey drops it.”
Many of the rules that people find onerous and bureaucratic were put in place to deal with real abuses, problems, or inconsistencies or as a way of managing complex environments. But while each rule may have been instituted for good reason, after a while a thicket of rules develops that may not make sense in the aggregate. The danger is that your company becomes overwhelmed by well-intended rules that only accomplish one thing: draining the creative impulse.
We’re meant to push ourselves and try new things—which will definitely make us feel uncomfortable.
“Sometimes in meetings, I sense people seizing up, not wanting to even talk about changes,” he says. “So I try to trick them. I’ll say, ‘This would be a big change if we were really going to do it, but just as a thought exercise, what if …’ Or, ‘I’m not actually suggesting this, but go with me for a minute …’ If people anticipate the production pressures, they’ll close the door to new ideas—so you have to pretend you’re not actually going to do anything, we’re just talking, just playing around. Then if you hit upon some new idea that clearly works, people are excited about it and are happier to act on the change.”
Occam’s Razor, attributed to William of Ockham, a fourteenth-century English logician. On the most basic level, it says that if there are competing explanations for why something occurs the way it does, you should pick the one that relies on the fewest assumptions and is thus the simplest
I feel like the only reason we’re able to find some of these unique ideas, characters, and story twists is through discovery. And, by definition, ‘discovery’ means you don’t know the answer when you start
personally, I think the person who can’t change his or her mind is dangerous. Steve Jobs was known for changing his mind instantly in the light of new facts, and I don’t know anyone who thought he was weak.
For years, Disney employees attempted to keep his spirit alive by constantly asking themselves, “What would Walt do?” Perhaps they thought that if they asked that question they would come up with something original, that they would remain true to Walt’s pioneering spirit. In fact, this kind of thinking only accomplished the opposite. Because it looked backward, not forward, it tethered the place to the status quo. A pervasive fear of change took root. Steve Jobs was quite aware of this story and used to repeat it to people at Apple, adding that he never wanted people to ask, “What would Steve do?” No one—not Walt, not Steve, not the people of Pixar—ever achieved creative success by simply clinging to what used to work
Which left us with a chronological problem: While the emotional throughline of the film was working, the age difference between Muntz and Carl (who’d admired him since childhood) should have meant that Muntz was pushing a hundred. But we were late in the game—too late to fix it—and in the end, we simply decided not to address it. We’ve found over the years that if people are enjoying the world you’ve created, they will forgive little inconsistencies, if they notice them at all. In this case, nobody noticed—or if they did, they didn’t care.
Pete was surprised to hear from a neuroscientist that only about 40 percent of what we think we “see” comes in through our eyes. “The rest is made up from memory or patterns that we recognize from past experience,” he told me.
If we start with the attitude that different viewpoints are additive rather than competitive, we become more effective because our ideas or decisions are honed and tempered by that discourse. In a healthy, creative culture, the people in the trenches feel free to speak up and bring to light differing views that can help give us clarity.
Here’s what turns a successful hierarchy into one that impedes progress: when too many people begin, subconsciously, to equate their own value and that of others with where they fall in the pecking order. Thus, they focus their energies on managing upward while treating people beneath them on the organizational chart poorly. The people I have seen do this seem to be acting on animal instinct, unaware of what they are doing. This problem is not caused by hierarchy itself but by individual or cultural delusions associated with hierarchy, chiefly those that assign personal worth based on rank. By not thinking about how and why we value people, we can fall into this trap almost by default.
If the other car had veered another two inches into our lane, it would have caught our front bumper, instead of the side, and pushed us right over the cliff. Existential threats like this tend to stay with you. Two more inches—no Pixar.
Careful “messaging” to downplay problems makes you appear to be lying, deluded, ignorant, or uncaring. Sharing problems is an act of inclusion that makes employees feel invested in the larger enterprise
Be wary of making too many rules. Rules can simplify life for managers, but they can be demeaning to the 95 percent who behave well. Don’t create rules to rein in the other 5 percent—address abuses of common sense individually. This is more work but ultimately healthier.
When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level. What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today
The healthiest organizations are made up of departments whose agendas differ but whose goals are interdependent. If one agenda wins, we all lose.
it is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them
Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way. And that’s as it should be.
Howard W. FrenchBuy on Amazon
“You can’t compare it with Western countries. But at the same time, most Western people probably have the wrong idea about life in China. They think that whatever you do, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is following you around, ready to arrest you. It’s like our ideas about America. We think everybody has a gun in their pocket, and there’s danger everywhere.
“Back home, ideas about Africa are way off, too. I get lots of questions from friends asking about animals and telling me to send pictures of them. People think it’s a big mess here and that it’s really dangerous, that there’s nothing but crises all the time. That’s because the news just focuses on the negative. It’s the same with the way Americans think about China. It’s also the way Chinese people think about Americans. Our news always accentuates the negative.”
As we walked forward into the crowd, a man flashing an exaggeratedly clownish expression stepped in front of Jamie, shifting right and left to block his way forward. I recognized the gesture immediately as a robbery attempt of a type usually attempted by a team of two, with the clown acting as a distraction.
“I’m Chinese,” he answered, “and we have an expression that says you leap forward if there’s an empty space. Empty spaces are there to be filled.”
the boy warned that the Chinese guards manning the barrier would stop us to make inquiries about our business, I told John he should merely slow down, allowing me, the foreigner, to give a brisk wave from the passenger’s seat, a kind of bluff, which I rightly figured would be enough to get us through
I asked him whether the Chinese government was helping businesses like his in this frontier export zone. He laughed, saying that Chinese state banks constantly offered easy money to finance trade. “The credit requirements are ridiculously easy. You hardly have to document anything,” he said. “China has too much money, with all those American dollars we are holding. There’s so much money that they don’t know what to do with it.”
If you have your equipment and your people in place and there is no business, that is very bad. If you bid low, though, even if you have a tiny margin, you are better off. That’s the reason Chinese companies bid low. It’s not because we want more market share. The number of companies and people working in this sector [in China] is very large. We need more and more markets to keep people employed. Most of the companies like mine are state-owned, and if you start laying off workers, it will create huge problems for the country.”
Chinese officials had negotiated the writing off of an unspecified amount of Namibian debt in exchange for five thousand passports and immigration permits for Chinese nationals.
I told him I would be visiting Dragon City, the popular name of the Chinese border enclave in Oshikango. “If you go there you will find that it is 100 percent Chinese, and there is a lot of resentment at the way they have been allowed to come in and buy up land like that for their exclusive use. “In Namibia, we have a place called Swakopmund. It is a German town; every second person you pass there is German. The Germans even have their own schools there. We don’t need more of this kind of thing in our country. We have already experienced apartheid here before
you go to some parts of Ghana and people have given up on farming because they have no roads. This is a big waste. If Ghana gets roads, they will be able to farm and earn money and this will allow them to develop
an apparent paradox widely observed in Africa: poverty is declining much faster in countries without mineral wealth than in those that are richly endowed in natural resources.
His instructions for when we reached the border town were strikingly simple: “Just look for the place where there are lots of Chinese. You can’t miss it. Give me a call, and I’ll come and get you.”
When I came here, Namibia was richer than China,” he said, laughing. “Here, I am a very rich man. But in the China of today, there is nothing remarkable about me at all.”
As we parted company, Pereira said grimly that with the country given over to illicit enrichment, lawlessness, and exclusion on such a vast scale, all signs pointed not to economic takeoff for Mozambique, but rather to yet more war.
Civil society works, in part, by demanding more from those who govern: better performance, more accountability and openness, and more fairness. In this way, and not just through the regular exercise of elections, habits of democracy are formed
I didn’t point out that in China, the very week before, its ambitious high-speed railroad program had suffered a fatal accident so embarrassing that the government had tried to cover it up by burying the trains before there could be an investigation.
“Each of the companies that comes here acts like a private intelligence operation and they inform their embassy about all of the resource and business opportunities that might interest China,” Pereira said. “They do some good things. They are providing some jobs. They are adding to the budget. They are building roads, and they do it quickly. But if you compare the negative to the positive, the negative is much greater. It’s not part of the public agenda, though, because of the party’s relationship with the Chinese over the years, and because Chinese business has captured our elites.
“He comes from the same class as me, but within three years of getting his minister’s appointment, he had three homes in Maputo, each of which is worth more than a million dollars.”
“In order to have a good outcome here, people need to know their rights. They need to know how to negotiate. Unless we get stronger participation from people at the grassroots level, the natural resources of this country will all be gone soon. There may come a day when people open their eyes, but by that time it will be too late.”
“There is a risk that they should consider, though, that one day the people of Africa will come to see China as an unfriendly country,” Diop said. “That could put all of their interests in danger over time. They should think about this a little more.”
Whatever land was not claimed or routinely worked now was likely to begin coming under heavy demand in the space of a generation, as the continent’s population skyrockets.
“I have a hard time imagining a Chinese leader deciding to invest in grain production here in Mali for sale in China,” Boly said. “We are a thousand kilometers from the nearest port, and with the transportation costs to get rice to China, it wouldn’t make sense. But I can easily imagine them producing rice to sell to us here in this region, which frees up grain from elsewhere for their consumption. And if they become really big players here, that gives China a lot of influence over our [African] governments.”
For thousands of years, Chinese had called people on their frontier barbarians, and now the stereotype had been reversed.
“I’d never dealt with African people before,” Hao said. “At first just coming in contact with them made me feel uncomfortable, their skin is so black. But once you’re in contact with them you begin to get used to it. You realize it’s just a color.
“China is a big, fucking mess with all of its fucking dialects,”
Time and again, Chinese told me they did not fully realize how oppressive things were at home until after they had left. Living in Africa, they said, it felt as if a lid had been removed from a pressure cooker. Now they could breathe.
Rising powers throughout history have forever faced a simple but fateful choice: whether to take on the established players in their backyards, in places where their interests are greatest and most deeply entrenched, or try to expand into relatively uncontested zones of the world.
Nicole StarosielskiBuy on Amazon
Only forty-five undersea cables extend outward from the continental United States, supporting almost all of the country’s international data transactions.26 If one groups the cables into thirty-mile stretches, one can see that international traffic enters the United States through fewer than twenty zones.
One recent cable that connects Australia and Guam has enough capacity to carry simultaneous phone calls from the entire population of Australia—over twenty million people.
Almost all of Australia’s Internet traffic goes out through a single thirty-mile stretch,
It was not until the large-scale environmental transformation of climate change, however, that a transarctic cable route became feasible.
Carol J. LoomisBuy on Amazon
Buffett is at heart a disciple of Benjamin Graham, under whom he studied at Columbia, and as such he believes in seeking out an undervalued company and investing in it heavily. Buffett, in fact, carries the Graham philosophy even further than Graham himself, for Graham was willing to sell out when the price of the stock rose to what he considered its true value. Buffett prefers to buy stocks that he will want to hold indefinitely.
Berkshire Hathaway owns 12 percent of the Washington Post Co.
He offered $12.9 million for station WLWD-TV 2, an NBC affiliate, a price that represented about two-and-one-half times the station’s gross revenues—not overly generous in view of the fact that stations often sell for at least three times revenues. But Avco accepted.
(“A compact organization lets all of us spend our time managing the business rather than managing each other.
“the Yanomamö Indians employ only three numbers: one, two, and more than two.
Buffett’s only articulated rules of investment: “The first rule is not to lose. The second rule is not to forget the first rule.
“With few exceptions, when a manager with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.
Buffett had an unwritten rule at the time that he would not put more than 25% of the partnership’s money into one security. He broke the rule for American Express, committing 40%, which was $13 million. Some two years later he sold out at a $20 million profit.
“Whenever I read about some company undertaking a cost-cutting program, I know it’s not a company that really knows what costs are all about. Spurts don’t work in this area. The really good manager does not wake up in the morning and say, ‘This is the day I’m going to cut costs,’ any more than he wakes up and decides to practice breathing.
Yong Kang Jie, where Din Tai Fung was founded. To this day, it is the single most famous restaurant in Taipei, the crown jewel of the pound-for-pound greatest eating island in the world.
While the rest of America went to church, we learned how to read right to left.
Teachers would try to ask us questions about science or math and we would answer back with news about Shaq coming to Orlando. It was an exciting time.
Macaroni is to Chinamen as water is to gremlins, teeth are to blow jobs, and Asian is to American. It just didn’t fit.
realized that day that anyone can be a parent; you just need live bullets.
People ask me what my greatest strengths are and I say perspective. The best way to get that is to meet people that are polar opposites; you learn the most from them. There are pieces of you that are inherently yours, but everything else is a collection of the things you’ve seen and the people you’ve met.
“A Modest Proposal”
I saw how managers would give people manuals, train them, and write them up, but it was empty. If you really wanted good employees that would have your interests at heart, they needed to buy in. You needed people who wanted to grow with your business and see themselves as valuable members on the team.
Style isn’t an excuse to cook without a standard. Style just determines the set of rules you choose.
I’m convinced that frats are the beginning of the end for most of the people who end up running the world. It teaches them to give up individuality, independence, and even their paper for acceptance.
When you washed your hands, they had hand towels so you didn’t have to wipe your face with the towel your brother wiped his balls with ten minutes ago. For real, if you are a broke-ass kid, you are wiping your face with your brother’s balls.
Baos, birds, or bud, you do everything you can up front to get them in a habit, then just don’t do anything to disturb it. Set a pattern, get them into an expectation about how you gonna move, and everybody settles in. The key is not to run with people who can’t be consistent.
Whether it’s cooking, basketball, or writing, I was like Latrell Sprewell. If I couldn’t go left, I just got really good at going right until someone stopped me.
You figure getting a professional degree can’t possibly put you in a shittier place than you were in previously, but that’s a misconception. It’s like having kids. In theory they cool, but the motherfuckers will shit on your life mad quick if you’re not ready. It’s a gamble. If you don’t have a scholarship, you spend about $200K for three years’ tuition, room, board, and books. Most people take out loans so that’s another 7 to 13 percent interest over twenty to thirty years paying it all back. By the time you factor in three years of lost wages, you’re just glad New York City got free condoms and 3-1-1.
People were so competitive and saw every job someone else got as a job that they lost. I didn’t agree and always told people what Cam’ron said: “Can’t get paid in a earth this big? You worthless kid!
Our shirts became the Street CNN: Cotton News Network.
If you want your voice to be heard, you have to fight. There’s no other way around it. You can’t expect people to seek you out; if you know you’re right and you have the answers, then it’s your duty to tell the world.
Major Abshed and I would get high and go to Yemen Cafe in Brooklyn after work. Right off Atlantic near Court Street, it’s the best Middle Eastern food in New York. They’re known for one dish: yaneez.
To this day, the only reality show that I’ve ever enjoyed watching was ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show
Tourists and cornballs love Joe’s Shanghai, but everyone knows it’s Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao holding down Flushing.
Peter Luger’s in Williamsburg to Great N.Y. Noodletown on Bowery to Shopsin’s on Essex to Baohaus on Fourteenth to La Taza de Oro on Ninth Avenue to Sapporo on Forty-ninth to the golden elevator at Kuruma Zushi to Lechonera in Harlem to SriPraPhai in Woodside to Mario’s on Arthur Avenue,
Kunjip in Koreatown. In the winter, I craved their kalbi tang
It was going to be raw and aggressive, but also witty and slick. It was going to boast and compete and exaggerate. But it was also going to care enough to get the details right about our aspirations and our crumb-snatching struggles, our specific, small realities (chicken and collard greens) and our living-color dreamscapes (big long Caddy). It was going to be real
The flow isn’t like time, it’s like life. It’s like a heartbeat or the way you breathe, it can jump, speed up, slow down, stop, or pound right through like a machine. If the beat is time, flow is what we do with that time, how we live through it. The beat is everywhere, but every life has to find its own flow.
Life’s a bitch, I hope to not make her a widow
In the game there’s always a younger guy who has an old soul and an understanding of things beyond his years. I mean in the street game, but it also applies to the music industry. An older guy will see a kid and think, Man, that kid moves differently from the rest. He’s ready for this life. They know that if they find the right kid, they can put him under their tutelage and he’ll get it fast, step right into the rhythm of the life. But it starts by the other guy watching him, trying to pick up clues.
later, we both became investors in a restaurant in New York, the Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village. One night I ran into him there and he told me he’d read an interview I’d done somewhere.
What’s the basic motivation for a hustler? I hit the streets for the same reason a lot of other kids do: I wanted money and excitement and loved the idea of cutting myself loose from the rules and low ceilings of the straight world. The truth is that most kids on the corner aren’t making big money—especially if you break their income down to an hourly wage.1 But they’re getting rewarded in ways that go beyond dollars and cents. The kid on the streets is getting a shot at a dream. The dream is that he will be the one to make this hustling thing pay off in a big way. He sees the guy who gets rich and drives the nice car and thinks, yep, that’ll be me. He ignores the other stories going around,
There’s no way to quantify all that on a spreadsheet, but it’s that dream of being the exception, the one who gets rich and gets out before he gets got, that’s the key to a hustler’s motivation. Legions of young cats chase after that ghost and die in the streets so a small handful of bosses—the ones who really did catch the miracle—can get richer.
The whole vibe of start-up companies in Silicon Valley with twenty-five-year-old CEOs wearing shelltoes is Russell’s Def Jam style filtered through different industries. The business ideal for a whole generation went from growing up and wearing a suit every day to never growing up and wearing sneakers to the boardroom
He’d discovered a way to work in the legit world but to live the dream of the hustler: independence, wealth, and success outside of the mainstream’s rules.
He knew that the key to success was believing in the quality of your own product enough to make people do business with you on your terms. He knew that great product was the ultimate advantage in competition, not how big your office building is or how deep your pockets are or who you know. In the end it came down to having a great product and the hustle to move it
When people asked him what his art was about, he’d hit them with the same three words: “Royalty, heroism, and the streets.”
In the corner of the painting are the words, MOST YOUNG KINGS GET THIER HEAD CUT OFF.
If the price is life, then you better get what you paid for. There’s an equal and opposite relationship between balling and falling.
you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate
David Haskell and Colin SpoelmanBuy on Amazon
You may have found you can get away with knowing nothing about wine, that you can call mulligan on that one and still get by. But liquor feels different, and so you pick one drink to order everywhere you go, like you’re James Bond or a cowboy. And you look down the bar and your ten-year-old self is sitting there shaking his head at how much of a phony you’ve become, and you want to say to him, You don’t understand; it gets complicated. You want to explain that adulthood is something of an insult that prompts the whiskey in the first place. Who knew that you had to live with yourself in your own head for such a long time? Alcohol seems to soften the intensity of that fact. Great writers have articulated this same truth, and have dealt with the condition by turning to drink. So you look at your younger self and shrug. He’ll understand soon enough. And who let him in the bar anyway?
Jameson would have you believe that the third distillation enhances the quality of their whiskey, but it simply means that Jameson is more neutral: fewer impurities, less flavor.
every vodka order is a missed opportunity.
Vodka is a feat of engineering. By definition via American law, it has no “distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color,” and so vodkas differentiate themselves by the vague characteristic of smoothness.
Most gin and absinthe originate as vodka before being infused and redistilled with flavoring agents.
the astronomic sales of super-premium vodkas are one of the great advertising triumphs of modern history.
—whiskey is steeped in America. It is the spirit that George Washington distilled at home and offered to his troops during the Revolutionary War, and the spirit Thomas Jefferson foresaw when granting land in western Virginia to corn growers. It is the spirit that defined the soul of the South after its defeat in the Civil War, and the spirit that was most easily manufactured (sometimes through grossly artificial means) during Prohibition, fueling the urban speakeasies of the Jazz Age,
. A 1766 map illustrates very little development in Brooklyn, other than a large distillery complex in Brooklyn Heights standing among the scattered houses in the woods and marshes.
Out on the frontier, it was considerably more difficult to deliver acres’ worth of grain to market than it was to distill the grain at home and travel with a jug of spirit. This is how whiskey first grew in popularity—it became a convenient mechanism for farms large and small to monetize their harvest.
Jefferson knew the economic potential of whiskey. When he was governor of Virginia, he offered sixty-acre plots in the western part of his state to anyone who would grow corn. Sixty acres of corn was far more than any family could eat, but enough to support commercial distilling. In 1792, this part of Virginia became the fifteenth state: Kentucky.
This was a time when the government received up to 65 percent of its revenue from excise tax
George Garvin Brown, who would later become the Brown in Brown-Forman (the company that now owns Jack Daniel’s, as well as many other spirits brands), as the first distiller to begin to bottle his whiskey specifically under a brand name (Old Forester)
A handful of Kentucky distilleries (including the distillery that is today called Buffalo Trace) had remained in business through the 1920s making medicinal whiskey, which allowed them something of a first-mover advantage.
Several states passed along the dry option to the county level, and today, hundreds of counties, primarily in the Southeast (and many in Kentucky), remain dry.
The wild tenements and illicit stills of Little Street in Irishtown have been replaced by a massive Con Edison substation, and most of Vinegar Hill is a ward of empty streets, surrounded only by the buzz of transformers and the whisper of the river. Dickson’s Alley is buried under a tower of the Farragut Houses, a housing project just steps from the current location of Kings County Distillery. The Navy Yard has been decommissioned, and the officers’ quarters, which once abutted Irishtown, are overgrown with trees and slated to become a supermarket. Al Capone—the greatest bootlegger of all time—was born a few steps from the Navy Yard, but today his birthplace is the site of an on-ramp to the BQE, and the brothels of Sands Street, where he contracted the syphilis that killed him, are gardens surrounded by public housing. All of this recent history has quickly covered over the past, the stench of alcohol having left only bitter memories in the public consciousness.
Commandant’s House This unusual mansion, built in 1805 just three years after the commissioning of the Navy Yard, is in private hands and remains one of the most mysterious and intriguing private residences in the city. It is rumored to have been designed by Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the U.S. Capitol’s wings, rotunda, and portico.
. 92 Navy Street Birthplace of Al Capone.
about half of the rye brands on liquor shelves today are made in a single, industrial facility,
I recommend Chuck Cowdery’s website as the paramount guide to bourbon on the Internet.
Bernheim is the only straight wheat whiskey on the market today, and makes an interesting contribution to any whiskey collection. It has a softer, familiar wheat flavor that doesn’t need a lot of wood to get a nice balance.
Sazerac cocktail, often described as the first mixed drink.
One noteworthy line is W. L. Weller, a well-aged wheated bourbon that is offered in a variety of bottlings, and whose twelve-year is excellent and reasonably priced.
George Dickel, the main alternative Tennessee whiskey to Jack Daniel’s. Its Number 12 is a personal favorite.
one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever tasted, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale,
when only poor people use something, no one takes care of it. Roads, schools, neighborhoods. Subways too.
Brownstone, limestone, some kind of moneystone.
Can’t tell if he’s halfway to getting dressed or just all the way to no longer caring.
Since the beds got up and running, sucking up all the bandwidth, the boring old Internet survives mostly as an afterthought, kept alive like a public utility for people who can’t afford to tap in. So, like a decaying neighborhood, all the money in the Internet moved out. And, like a decaying neighborhood, the Internet is now mostly a refuge for poor folks and perverts, people in the shadows, by choice or not. Just a place where you can log on to advertise your junk, then swap it for someone else’s junk, then revel for a day in new junk.
I raise the glass. Solemnly promise. I will get to the bottom of this.
I know it’s a cliché to be a hard drinker in my profession. But it’s the one part I do really well.
Needle in a haystack. Never did understand that expression. Fuck searching, just buy another needle
Every human being who’s ever lived has died, except the living.
You’ll leave a trail of trash on this Earth that will far exceed anything of worth you leave behind. For every ounce of heirloom, you leave a ton of landfill.
Sometimes you’re on the toilet and you’ve already read all the magazines. Inspiration hits.
The too-sharp edges of the actual world.
Mark bows his head to say grace. Persephone follows. I succumb to peer pressure.
It’s not a terrible idea. Let’s set the bar for ideas a little higher than not terrible.
Not many people order the abyss, straight up.
The door says SOCIAL CLUB, but really it’s just a bunch of old guys playing cards who know how to make you feel unwelcome.
rough cobblestones underfoot. These ones aren’t made of gold, just cobble. Brought over in the bellies of empty cargo ships as ballast, then unpacked here and used to pave a new world.
Burial plot. The last luxury item on Earth.
Harrow always said that he hoped to build a heaven. We send him six feet in the opposite direction.
Young musicians believe they should be able to throw a band together and be famous, and anything that’s in their way is unfair and evil. What are you, in your 20s, you picked up a guitar? Give it a minute.
What I learned is that the level I’m at now I get polite nos. It used to just be nothing but silence.
I don’t comment on stuff that’s got nothing to do with me. I think it’s better to talk through your work. So I just do jokes.
I don’t think you should ever say anything that you’re going to have to apologize for later. If the heat gets hot, just let them get mad. How did somebody make you apologize? Did they literally hit you on your body? Let them be upset. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be a pauper. It’s a desperate thing to need everybody to be really happy with everything you say. To me the way to manage is not to have 50 versions of yourself — I do this thing, and the next time you’re going to hear me is the next time I do another one. As soon as you crack your knuckles and open up a comments page, you just canceled your subscription to being a good person.
great names are like knots—they’re woven from the same stringy material as other words, but in their particular arrangement, they catch, become junctions to which new threads arrive, from which other threads depart.
Behavior change, not growth. Behavior change is about improving the lives of others, scale is about ego. Getting scale after nailing behavior change is easier than nailing behavior change (and thus having a shot at durability) after hitting scale.
Timeliness. Rhythm. Moderation. These things dovetail into what I consider the biggest difference between Slow Web and Fast Web. Fast Web is about information. Slow Web is about knowledge. Information passes through you; knowledge dissolves into you. And timeliness, rhythm, and moderation are all essential for memory and learning.
Sometimes what we really need are friends we can meet once every few months for a bowl of ramen noodles at a restaurant in the East Village. Friends with whom we can sit and talk and eat and drink and maybe learn a little about ourselves in the process. And at the end of the night get up and go our separate ways, until next time. Until next time.
Many of our interfaces are really just ways to try to repackage time so that it’s meaningful, so that we can do stuff with it. It’s not that there isn’t enough time but rather that there’s too much of it.
I can never remember if we are supposed to live each day as it were our last, or if it’s the first day of the rest of our lives. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
I’d try to learn grammar, I’d spend time with my family, and I’d prototype my interactions. And I’d do some user testing. Because even if you are dying you should still do user testing
The only unit of time that matters is heartbeats.
We’re constantly switching accelerations; we’re jumping between time frames. That’s what we’re asking people to do every time we make something new, some new tool or product. We’re asking them to reset their understanding of time. To accept that the sequence we’re asking them to follow is the right way to do a thing. It’s like the farmer with the clock.
he prefers not to talk about them, feeling that whatever value they may have can be talked away.
The fact is that Hemingway, while obviously enjoying life, brings an equivalent dedication to everything he does—an outlook that is essentially serious, with a horror of the inaccurate, the fraudulent, the deceptive, the half-baked.
Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
you are more alone because that is how you must work and the time to work is shorter all the time and if you waste it you feel you have committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness.
This real-time barrage of voices works well for talk, because talk is fast, easy, effortless. We do it constantly. So what about things that take longer to make and consume: a song, a book, a film? Trying to squeeze these types of media up into the high-frequency end of the spectrum and expecting that we’ll enjoy them whizzing around our heads at the same speed as our daily chatter might create a missed opportunity to explore a whole other end to the spectrum of pace for personal data
In 1967, when describing the community of the future (our present), Marshall McLuhan predicted “electric circuitry has overthrown the regime of ‘time’ and ‘space’ and pours upon us instantly and continuously the concerns of all other men.” He was right; this is the real-time state we’re currently living in.
successful startups happen because the founders are sufficiently different from other people that ideas few others can see seem obvious to them.
First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt.
At YC we call these “made-up” or “sitcom” startup ideas. Imagine one of the characters on a TV show was starting a startup. The writers would have to invent something for it to do. But coming up with good startup ideas is hard. It’s not something you can do for the asking. So (unless they got amazingly lucky) the writers would come up with an idea that sounded plausible, but was actually bad.
The danger of an idea like this is that when you run it by your friends with pets, they don’t say “I would never use this.” They say “Yeah, maybe I could see using something like that.” Even when the startup launches, it will sound plausible to a lot of people. They don’t want to use it themselves, at least not right now, but they could imagine other people wanting it. Sum that reaction across the entire population, and you have zero users.
you can either build something a large number of people want a small amount, or something a small number of people want a large amount. Choose the latter. Not all ideas of that type are good startup ideas, but nearly all good startup ideas are of that type.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig says: You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.
Live in the future, then build what’s missing.
If you knew about all the things we’ll get in the next 50 years but don’t have yet, you’d find life present day life pretty constraining, just as someone from the present would if they were sent back 50 years in a time machine. When something annoys you, it could be because you’re living in the future.
Live in the future and build what seems interesting.
Live in the future and build what seems interesting. Strange as it sounds, that’s the real recipe.
Grandparents are the conduits of culture, and without them culture stagnates.
When the numbers of warriors on both sides were about equal, primitive tribes usually beat the armies of civilization. The Celtic tribes defeated the Romans, the Tuareg smashed the French, the Zulus trumped the British, and it took the U.S. Army 50 years to defeat the Apache tribes. As Lawrence Keeley says in his survey of early warfare in War Before Civilization, “The facts recovered by ethnographers and archaeologists indicated unequivocally that primitive and prehistoric warfare was just as terrible and effective as the historic and civilized version. In fact, primitive warfare was much more deadly than that conducted between civilized states because of the greater frequency of combat and the more merciless way it was conducted. . . . It is civilized warfare that is stylized, ritualized, and relatively less dangerous.”
Our teeth continue to shrink (because of cooking, our external stomach), our muscles thin out, our hair disappears. Technology has domesticated us. As fast as we remake our tools, we remake ourselves. We are coevolving with our technology, and so we have become deeply dependent on it. If all technology—every last knife and spear—were to be removed from this planet, our species would not last more than a few months. We are now symbiotic with technology.
Marshall McLuhan, among others, noted that clothes are people’s extended skin, wheels extended feet, camera and telescopes extended eyes.
service- and idea-based economy
This is how all technology works. A gadget begins as a junky prototype and then progresses to something that barely works. The ad hoc shelters in slums are upgraded over time, infrastructure is extended, and eventually makeshift services become official. What was once the home of poor hustlers becomes, over the span of generations, the home of rich hustlers. Propagating slums is what cities do, and living in slums is how cities grow. The majority of neighborhoods in almost every modern city are merely successful former slums. The squatter cities of today will become the blue-blood neighborhoods of tomorrow. This is already happening in Rio and Mumbai today.
Science is both the way we personally know things and the way we collectively know. The greater the pool of individuals in the culture, the smarter science gets.
We don’t go on as we are. We address the problems of tomorrow not with today’s tools but with the tools of tomorrow. This is what we call progress
It is as if mammals are assigned 1.5 billion heartbeats and told to use them as they like. Tiny mice speed ahead in a fast-forward version of an elephant’s life
many of the forms we see in evolution today are due to random contingencies in the past and don’t follow a progressive sequence. If we rewind the tape of life’s history and push start again, it will play out differently.
The ever-thickening mix of existing technologies in a society creates a supersaturated matrix charged with restless potential. When the right idea is seeded within, the inevitable invention practically explodes into existence, like an ice crystal freezing out of water. Yet as science has shown, even though water is destined to become ice crystals when it is cold enough, no two snowflakes are the same. The path of freezing water is predetermined, but there is great leeway, freedom, and beauty in the individual expression of its predestined state.
When we spy our technological fate in the distance, we should not reel back in horror of its inevitability; rather, we should lurch forward in preparation
There’s an old story about the long reach of early choices that is basically true: Ordinary Roman carts were constructed to match the width of imperial Roman war chariots because it was easier to follow the ruts in the road left by the war chariots. The chariots were sized to accommodate the width of two large warhorses, which translates into our English measurement of 4’ 8.5”. Roads throughout the vast Roman Empire were built to this specification. When the legions of Rome marched into Britain, they constructed long-distance imperial roads 4’ 8.5” wide. When the English started building tramways, they used the same width so the same horse carriages could be used. And when they started building railways with horseless carriages, naturally the rails were 4’ 8.5” wide. Imported laborers from the British Isles built the first railways in the Americas using the same tools and jigs they were used to. Fast-forward to the U.S. space shuttle, which is built in parts around the country and assembled in Florida. Because the two large solid-fuel rocket engines on the side of the launch shuttle were sent by railroad from Utah, and that line traversed a tunnel not much wider than the standard track, the rockets themselves could not be much wider in diameter than 4’ 8.5”.
“So, a major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of two horses’ arse.” More or less, this is how technology constrains itself over time.
By following what technology wants, we can be more ready to capture its full gifts.
Most of the new problems in the world are problems created by previous technology.
because we cannot imagine it, it will never happen, because nothing has ever been created without being imagined first
If you are a web designer today, it is only because many tens of thousands of other people around you and before you have been expanding the realm of possibilities. They have gone beyond farms and home shops to invent a complex ecology of electronic devices that require new expertise and new ways of thinking.
Can the human mind master what the human mind has made?
The guild of French scribes succeeded in delaying the introduction of printing into Paris, but only for 20 years.
Thomas Edison believed his phonograph would be used primarily to record the last-minute bequests of the dying. The radio was funded by early backers who believed it would be the ideal device for delivering sermons to rural farmers. Viagra was clinically tested as a drug for heart disease. The internet was invented as a disaster-proof communications backup. Very few great ideas start out headed toward the greatness they eventually achieve. That means that projecting what harm may come from a technology before it “is” is almost impossible.
an invention or idea is not really tremendous unless it can be tremendously abused. This should be the first law of technological expectation: The greater the promise of a new technology, the greater its potential for harm as well.
We know technology will produce problems; we just don’t know which new problems.
The threat of these nano-organisms breeding without limit until they cover everything is known as the “gray goo” scenario.
human-piloted cars cause great harm, killing millions of people each year worldwide. If robot-controlled cars killed “only” half a million people per year, it would be an improvement
The evolution of new technologies is inevitable; we can’t stop it. But the character of each technology is up to us.
Civilization is a steady migration away from “no choice.”
specialization follows the arc of complexity.
When information is cheap, attention becomes expensive.
Some years before his death, he told a friend that he would gladly give up whatever time he had left, if only he could be allowed to live for three days, five centuries in the future.
DNA serves two different functions. First, it preserves information. It does this by copying itself, from generation to generation, spanning eons—a Library of Alexandria that keeps its data safe by copying itself billions of times.
Near 105 he wrote something offbeat: “genetic constitution of man.” There was no real precedent for this in current scientific thinking. James D. Watson was a twenty-one-year-old student of zoology in Indiana; the discovery of the structure of DNA lay several years in the future. This was the first time anyone suggested the genome was an information store measurable in bits. Shannon’s guess was conservative, by at least four orders of magnitude. He thought a “phono record (128 levels)” held more information: about 300,000 bits.
In the night when I cannot sleep, thoughts crowd into my mind.… Whence and how do they come? I do not know and I have nothing to do with it. Those which please me I keep in my head and hum them.
Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms. Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely play an important role.
A stranger is at a party of people who know one another well. One says, “72,” and everyone laughs. Another says, “29,” and the party roars. The stranger asks what is going on. His neighbor said, “We have many jokes and we have told them so often that now we just use a number.” The guest thought he’d try it, and after a few words said, “63.” The response was feeble. “What’s the matter, isn’t this a joke?” “Oh, yes, that is one of our very best jokes, but you did not tell it well.”♦
Information can be considered as order wrenched from disorder.
emphasizing the potential near-immortality of a gene, in the form of copies, as its defining property.” This is where life breaks free from its material moorings. (Unless you already believed in the immortal soul.) The gene is not an information-carrying macromolecule. The gene is the information.
(In the early 1980s, a magazine with a print circulation of 700,000 still seemed like a powerful communications platform.)
He instituted a Noah’s Ark rule, inviting two of each species so that speakers would always have someone present who could see through their jargon
E. E. Cummings: “Some son-of-a-bitch will invent a machine to measure Spring with.”
To say, as the public press says, that therefore these machines are brains, and that our brains are nothing but calculating machines, is presumptuous. One might as well say that the telescope is an eye or that a bulldozer is a muscle.
Gamow framed the issue simply: “The nucleus of a living cell is a storehouse of information.”♦ Furthermore, he said, it is a transmitter of information. The continuity of all life stems from this “information system”
Dr. Wiener sees no reason why they can’t learn from experience, like monstrous and precocious children racing through grammar school. One such mechanical brain, ripe with stored experience, might run a whole industry, replacing not only mechanics and clerks but many of the executives too.… As men construct better calculating machines, explains Wiener, and as they explore their own brains, the two seem more & more alike. Man, he thinks, is recreating himself, monstrously magnified, in his own image.
a hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
Shine let her sell cocaine again on the condition that she go back to school.
“Don’t make no waves, don’t back no losers.”
Hell’s Kitchen. Once dominated by the tough Irish street gangs memorialized in the Sean Penn movie State of Grace,
Information and knowledge: these are currencies that have never gone out of style.
He had played chess, too, but he was not temperamentally suited to chess. He did not like planning ahead. He preferred picking the perfect move for the moment. You could win in checkers like that, sometimes.
“Oh. You’re up,” said Wednesday, putting his head around the door. “That’s good. You want coffee? We’re going to rob a bank.”
I can tell you this, you never say no to the opportunity to piss, to eat, or to get half an hour’s shut-eye.
bought his stupid at a two-for-one sale,
White people have some fucked-up gods, Mister Shadow.”
Actually he was not used to writing by hand. Apart from very short notes, it was usual to dictate everything into the speak-write, which was of course impossible for his present purpose.
Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well—better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning; or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words—in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?
Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past
But we make the brain perfect before we blow it out.
One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.’
It goes against the grain of what people have been taught in business and what leaders have been taught. The problem isn’t with the teams or the entrepreneurs. They love the chance to quickly get their baby out into the market. They love the chance to have the customer vote instead of the suits voting. The real issue is with the leaders and the middle managers. There are many business leaders who have been successful because of analysis. They think they’re analysts, and their job is to do great planning and analyzing and have a plan.
I yelled up into Unger’s ear: You’re scared of anything you don’t understand so you worship it. You kiss its ass!
I didn’t break any laws. All I did was break rules.
At the same time, though, when I think about her, I get all filled up with this feeling like I’m great because she’s great and maybe she loves me and so I shouldn’t have to take any shit off anyone, ever, and it makes me want to destroy everything around us that’s suck.
When simple things need pictures, labels, or instructions, the design has failed.
A research plan consists of three major parts: why you’re doing the research (the goals), when you’re going to be doing it (the schedule), and
how much it’s going to cost (the budget). These are in turn broken up into practical chunks such as report formats and timetables.
the first step is to make a list of issues of how the product’s user experience affects the goals of the company. Each issue represents a goal for the research program; it focuses the research plan and helps uncover how the product can be improved for the greatest benefit to the company.
- Collecting issues and presenting them as goals 2. Prioritizing the goals 3. Rewriting the goals as questions to be answered
The key questions each person (or department) should answer are as follows: 1. In terms of what you do on a day-to-day basis, what are the goals of the product? 2. Are there ways that it’s not meeting those goals? If so, what are they? 3. Are there questions you want to have answered about it? If so, what are they?
There shouldn’t be more than half a dozen or so “big” questions and a dozen or so smaller, more specific ones.
Based on what you know about the company priorities, group the questions into clusters by technique, and make a rough schedule.
In my experience, useful times for calculating the duration of a qualitative user research project such as a usability test (including project management time and typical inefficiencies) are roughly as follows:
(as of spring 2003 in San Francisco) they tend to fall around $100 per person per 90-minute session for most research.
a demographic profile is one that describes a person’s physical and employment characteristics; a Web use profile describes someone’s Web experience; and a technological profile describes their experience with computer technology in general.
Screeners vary from project to project and from recruiter to recruiter, but there are some general rules that apply to most. 1. Stick to 20 questions. There’s a reason that game exists. It’s possible to find out almost anything about someone in 20 questions. Most target audiences can be defined in 10 to 15 questions, and if the people are prescreened through your database, you can get away with fewer than 5. 2. Make it short. It should be possible to get through a whole screener in five to ten minutes. 3. Be clear and specific. The person responding to the question should know exactly what kinds of answers are expected. 4. Never use jargon. Use simple, straightforward, unambiguous language. 5. Ask for exact dates, quantities, and times. This eliminates the problem of one person’s “occasionally” being another’s “all the time.” 6. Every question should have a purpose. Each question should help determine whether this person is in the audience or not. Don’t ask questions that are incidental or “nice to know” since answers to them will not be useful in recruiting and take everyone’s time. Nice-to-know questions can be asked at the beginning of the test. 7. Order questions from general to specific,
Open-ended questions like this serve two purposes. They give the recruiter an idea of how articulate a potential participant is, and they can collect information that’s not easily formatted as a multiple-choice question. Save them for the end, and don’t put more than one in any given screener
Questions should be nonjudgmental. The person answering the question should not think that you’re expecting a specific answer or that any answer is wrong.You
Questions should be focused on a single topic. A question that has an “and” or an “or” linking two ideas leads to ambiguity since it’s often unclear which part of the question is being answered.
Keep questions open-ended.
The Internet is a big fan of the worst-possible-thing. Many people thought Twitter was the worst possible way for people to communicate, little more than discourse abbreviated into tiny little chunks; Facebook was a horrible way to experience human relationships, commodifying them into a list of friends whom one pokes. The Arab Spring changed the story somewhat. (BuzzFeed is another example-let them eat cat pictures.) One recipe for Internet success seems to be this: Start at the bottom, at the most awful, ridiculous, essential idea, and own it. Promote it breathlessly, until you’re acquired or you take over the world.
When it was Ev’s turn to talk, he asked his first question: “What’s the worst thing I can do as CEO to fuck the company up?” Without skipping a beat, Campbell responded: “Hire your fucking friends!” He went into a ten-minute tirade about friends and business and how they don’t mix.
nobody will ever guess that your plain white T-shirt is line dry only
You may be the world’s foremost expert in Religious Dance of Melanesia. But after you graduate, you realize no one gives a fuck besides your PhD advisor. This is the story of the world’s most exasperated Subway employee
It’s a delicate balance between FOMO and DGAF
There’s a theory that a man’s style is just a reiteration of what he wore the last time he was “really getting laid” — thus the cargo shorts
Once upon a time people were born into communities and had to find their individuality. Today people are born individuals and have to find their communities
For the hungry and foolish
Sometimes it’s about what you choose not to read,” she said. “Every book we read or movie we see, every little experience becomes a part of who we are. If we’re all watching the same things and reading the same things and listening to the same things, then our conversations would end up going in circles
Connor immediately forgot all their names
Did our ancestors stand around in caves arguing over whether the antlers on the drawing of the deer should have twelve or fourteen points? No, of course not. They were too busy throwing spears at stuff and running from lions and trying not to die. They were out doing real things, expressing their humanity as if their lives depended on it, because their lives did depend on it.
everyone has ideas, but it’s only through putting work out into the world that a truly creative individual can effect change.
“You should blog about this or something.” “I know, man. I gotta redesign my blog first though.”
Resistance to technology is as old as technology itself. Because technology is change, and change is difficult to accept.
I take it as a comment on my skill as a comedian. It seems like nothing. It should seem like something anyone could do.
Seinfeld: I’m very kind. Everyone has a few fake laughs they use to get through life. The snort, the snort-chuckle, the nod-smile, the “That’s good!” But they’re all just nice ways of saying “Stop. Please stop.”
Playboy: What irritates you? Seinfeld: Everything. I just hate everything and everybody. And that’s why I’m so funny. If I didn’t have all these sensitivities, I’d have nothing to talk about.
Playboy: Do you enjoy your job? Seinfeld: I am my job. Everything else in life pales by comparison to the interpretive experience: seeing something, interpreting it, shaping it, communicating it and being affirmed for it.
Actors go into auditions thinking, Oh God, they’re going to hate me, they’re going to hate me. I started to come in selling confidence, not even my acting skills. The best actor never gets the job when they audition. Never. Especially in television. The guy who gets the job is somebody who comes in and delivers every day. It’s often looks more than anything. So I just changed my attitude. I thought, From here on out, I cannot lose a job. I’ll do whatever it takes. So I’d come in with a dog under my arm for some scene. I’d pull a champagne bottle and phone out of my jacket and do the scene. People were like, “What the fuck is that?’’ I just thought, Fuck it. It’s where I’m going to hit the ball, not if I’m going to hit it.
In your 20s, you figure out what it is you’re going to be. You do a lot of different jobs. By your late 20s, you sort of have some idea of what it is. Then you spend your 30s and a lot of your 40s making your mark.
Trumpet players, like anybody else, are individualized by their different ideas and styles. The thing to judge in any jazz artist is does the man project, and does he have ideas.
a bird flies, a fish swims, I drink.
In Washington, the truth is never told in daylight hours or across a desk.
in 2007 it was estimated that councils in London spent around £150M, or €190M, per year on removing chewing gum from the city streets.
Memory Diamond — a hypothetical crystalline form of carbon used for data storage, in which each bit is represented positionally by an atom of one isotope or another (in this case, carbon-12 or carbon-13)
creating something personal, even of moderate quality, has a different kind of appeal than consuming something made by others, even of high quality
the GeoCities of Things’ - the moment when it’s as easy to make personal technology objects as it was to make a GeoCities page.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.
A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby.
The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.
Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked. So should you.
Anyone who takes a “we’ll figure out how to profit in the future” attitude to business is being ridiculous. That’s like building a rocket ship but starting off by saying, “Let’s pretend gravity doesn’t exist.” A business without a path to profit isn’t a business, it’s a hobby.
When there’s something new to announce every two weeks, you energize your team and give your customers something to be excited about.
What distinguishes people who are ten times more effective than the norm is not that they work ten times as hard; it’s that they use their creativity to come up with solutions that require one-tenth of the effort.
now it’s programmers who get to upgrade the human operating system.”
People want things to be real. If you give them an excuse, they’ll believe you.”
theres a grumblegear3k waiting for you at 11 jay street in dumbo. ask for the hogwarts special. hold the shrooms.
I’m really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.
Books: boring. Codes: awesome. These are the people who are running the internet.
This is Mat’s secret weapon, his passport, his get-out-of-jail-free card: Mat makes things that are beautiful.
And then, on a sunny Friday morning, for three seconds, you can’t search for anything. You can’t check your email. You can’t watch any videos. You can’t get directions. For just three seconds, nothing works, because every single one of Google’s computers around the world is dedicated to this task. Make that a really, really big gun.
One of Kurt’s ill-fated efforts to earn money in this period was a tryout to write for Sports Illustrated, a new magazine of Time Inc. He was assigned to write an article about a racehorse that had bolted when the starting gun went off at Aqueduct and jumped over the railing of the infield. After thinking about it for an hour or so, Vonnegut wrote, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” walked out of the office, and went home.
I urge each and every one of you to seek out projects that leave the world a better place than you found it. We used to design ways to get to the moon; now we design ways to never have to get out of bed. You have the power to change that.
There is always someone cheaper. Negotiate price, but don’t compete on price. Compete on quality, value, and fit.
Never lower the price without taking something away. And never take something away without explaining the lost benefit. If the lost benefit wasn’t that great then maybe it’s a fine thing to cut anyway. The amount isn’t arbitrary; every item has a set cost. So if you want to pay less you have to be willing to get less.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Indie Capitalism is that there is now a middle ground. Instead of the “go big or go home” approach of most start-ups, it is now feasible to “go small and have complete autonomy over your products and not work crazy unreasonable hours.”
Thirty days seems to be the sweet spot for campaign funding duration
Making It: Manufacturing Techniques for Product Design, by Christ Lefteri, is an excellent place to start and describes common production methods in straightforward language.
Design and development are intertwined, and they feed off one another. Separating the two prevents serendipitous discoveries from occurring.
products. Walt Disney said it best: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”
“Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” RON SWANSON
Jump off the cliff and build the plane on the way down.
Make something great because you care deeply about it. Make something because you stay awake at night thinking about it. Make something because you feel invigorated when you work on it, and anxious when you don’t.
Einstein offered her a deal. He would win the Nobel Prize someday, he said; if she gave him a divorce, he would give her the prize money.
beam. As he once declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
And he generally preferred to think in pictures, most notably in famous thought experiments, such as imagining watching lightning strikes from a moving train or experiencing gravity while inside a falling elevator. “I very rarely think in words at all,” he later told a psychologist. “A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterwards.”
“Best wishes etc., especially the latter.”
Blind respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
Question every premise, challenge conventional wisdom, and never accept the truth of something merely because everyone else views it as obvious. Resist being credulous.
It has occurred to me that if people really knew how software got written, I’m not sure if they’d give their money to a bank or get on an airplane ever again.
When the humans come back to talk changes, I can just run the program. Show them: Here. Look at this. See? This is not just talk. This runs. Whatever you might say, whatever the consequences, all you have are words and what I have is this, this thing I’ve built, this operational system. Talk all you want, but this thing here: it works.
Once we were impressed by buildings; now we are impressed by virtual on-line spaces
If you’re not terrified in this profession, you really don’t know what you’re doing.
One VC proposed a toast. “Work hard!” he exclaimed. Another raised his glass. “Work long hours!” he said.
The Internet will spread and magnify their sense of injustice and frustration at the opportunities they know they are missing. So we can expect also around the year 2020 a rise in unrest in many African countries. Some of this unrest may turn violent, with terror groups forming along pan-African or religious lines, of which Boko Haram in northern Nigeria is only a forewarning.
the Nokia 1100 mobile phone. More than 50 million of these phones were sold in Africa at a price of around thirty dollars. It was known as the “Kalashnikov of communication.
Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.
But there were also new insights. The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive (just as Aron’s husband had described her). They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions—sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments—both physical and emotional—unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss—another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.
The description of such characters as thin-skinned is meant metaphorically, but it turns out that it’s actually quite literal. Among the tests researchers use to measure personality traits are skin conductance tests, which record how much people sweat in response to noises, strong emotions, and other stimuli. High-reactive introverts sweat more; low-reactive extroverts sweat less. Their skin is literally “thicker,” more impervious to stimuli, cooler to the touch. In fact, according to some of the scientists I spoke to, this is where our notion of being socially “cool” comes from
Lie detectors (polygraphs) are partially skin conductance tests. They operate on the theory that lying causes anxiety, which triggers the skin to perspire imperceptibly.
I discovered early on that people don’t buy from me because they understand what I’m selling,” explains Jon. “They buy because they feel understood.”
She had come to see the sea, not the ocean.
. It was a success: there is no need for advertising.
What you did not like distinguished it.
The United States talked about individuality, but delivered the unvaried and replicated.
His phone rang before dawn. His first waking word was a profanity.
The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of love.
My grandfather could invent the automatic sprinkler system in his workshop, but he couldn’t build a factory there. To get to market, he had to interest a manufacturer in licensing his invention. And that is not only hard, but requires the inventor to lose control of his or her invention. The owners of the means of production get to decide what is produced.
The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent, and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.
the spinning jenny’s magical multiplication of productivity was initially, as you might expect, little welcomed by the local artisans, whose guilds had controlled production for centuries—they hated it. As yarn prices started to fall and opposition from local spinners grew, one mob came to his house and burned the frames for twenty new machines.
Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel – only worse.
Jilly’s, which is on West Fifty-second Street in Manhattan, is where Sinatra drinks whenever he is in New York, and there is a special chair reserved for him in the back room against the wall that nobody else may use
“I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniel.” –Frank Sinatra
Neither does he go to parties, where he’d have to stand around, with a drink in his hand, “listening to a lot of bullshit.”
Even though diamonds can in fact be shattered, chipped, discolored, or incinerated to ash, the concept of eternity perfectly captured the magical qualities that the advertising agency wanted to attribute to diamonds.
I think if people know too much about their own industries, then they’re ultimately too influenced by it: either they won’t try things because people have already done them, or they just get focused on what the trends are instead of defining them.
So I stepped away from my ego a little more and realized that I get paid to make things I would just make anyway, so I should just shut the fuck up
Every manager - in fact, every employee - needs to understand the financial side of the business. One of my big mistakes was to let people build products, or do marketing, without forcing them to understand the financial impact of their decisions.