Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TEDx talk

I am preparing for a TEDx talk later this year. It is related to the idea of "power distance", a concept in organizational behavior which has arisen out of research into organizational culture. This research has been based in some interesting mathematical statistics, and I will be talking more about this talk in future posts.

I am preparing for this talk in two ways : one, I am giving practice preparatory talks to friends; and two, I am taking a course on Public Speaking at Stanford. As part of the public speaking course, I will be making a presentation as part of a three member group on "Torture" today.

Torture has become a controversial issue of late. It has been frequently making it to newspaper headlines. Here is what we plan to cover as part of the talk. The talk is in three parts : one, a historical perspective on torture; two, the ethical and moral aspects of torture; and three, we will talk about torture using a Case Study. I will be presenting the first part of the talk, a historical overview of torture.

As part of my portion of the talk, I will be making the case that in modern times, torture is no longer the evil that it used to be. In premodern times (the Ancient and Medieval historical periods), fear of torture was quite widespread. With the Age of Enlightenment, however, it became increasingly recognized that torture was not acceptable. Organizations show isomorphism. When one legal system adopted codes against torture, other legal systems tended to follow and adopted similar legal mechanisms. The British legal system abolished all forms of torture around 1640, except for "peine forte et dure". (This form of torture was abolished in 1772.) Legal mechanisms similar to those in Britain were adopted around the world with organizational forms similar to the British legal system (hence the term "organizational isomorphism", of course). Today, torture is almost universally frowned upon. Whereas it used to be common for a slave, as one example of a Common Man, to be tortured as punishment, the Common Man today no longer needs to fear torture.

I had not heard of "peine forte et dure" until this talk, and it turns out that there are various other forms of torture as well that would be quite new to most people. And so, in my talk, I will briefly cover some of the various documented forms of torture as well. This includes such means of torture as choking, crushing, disemboweling, dismemberment and crucifixion. The point of talking about these various forms of torture is to show people, experentially, what torture is really like. Torture is never pleasant, and there is a tendency for us to believe that the "enhanced interrogation" techniques that have been discussed in newspaper headlines are somehow sophisticated and urbane. The facts of the matter are not so simple.

If there is one takeaway from my part of the talk (the historical perspective on torture), it is that, thanks to the spread of the Enlightenment values, torture is no longer the evil that it used to be. Torture is still used only in very exceptional circumstances.

In the rest of the talk, we will be making the "genie out of the bottle" argument. The argument is basically that within organizations, once you let the torture genie out of the bottle, there is no going back. The way this works is that people within one particular organization may be implicitly told to get the truth from prisoners regardless of the means. When these people move to a different theater of war or a different organization, they may continue to do the things the way they did them in the previous place. In this fashion, organizational practices around torture will move from place to place, and so once the torture genie is released from the bottle, there is no easy way to stuff it back in. I know that I am not providing a whole lot of details on this topic, but that is primarily because I don't want to get involved in the politics of the matter. The focus here is on simplicity and clarity.

And so that is it about my preparations for the TEDx talk. For more, watch this space.