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".

Monday, June 30, 2014

INNOVATION: Information School team app for West African fishermen snags sustainable fishing prize

From UC Berkeley:
When they woke at the base of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 30-foot-high kelp forest Saturday morning — under the watchful gaze of leopard sharks, red octopuses and dozens of other marine species — four students and alums at UC Berkeley’s School of Information knew they faced no ordinary programming challenge.

The team spent the weekend participating in a nationwide Fishackathon, a project supporting sustainable fishing practices around the world. The team’s project first was judged the best at the Monterey Bay Aquarium site, and then faced finalists from four other hackathon sites across the country. After Tuesday’s final presentations, the I School team was awarded the hackathon grand prize.

I School student Dan Tsai and 2014 graduates Isha Dandavate, Jenton Lee and Kate Rushton joined dozens of other programmers, students and information professionals from Silicon Valley and across Northern California at the aquarium the weekend of June 13-14 for two straight days and nights of design and development. The aquarium had teams of oceanographers and fishing researchers available as resources and consultants for the contestants, to provide information they needed to guide their designs.

Response to Tyler Cowen : why Indian restaurants are better than Pakistani restaurants

Bang in the middle of World Cup season when international rivalries are prominently on display (and what could be more important than watching Deutschland play ("JA, JA, DEUTSCHLAAAAAAAND!!")) comes this short post furthering the point I made on why Indian restaurants in the United States are better than Pakistani restaurants. Tyler Cowen has argued otherwise in his book. He wrote that Pakistani restaurants are better than Indian restaurants in the United States. But when I asked him for amplification, he did say that... well, read on to find that bit out. But first, the question: is Tyler's observation really true? Has Tyler Cowen scored one for Pakistan?

At first blush: perhaps, in a manner of speaking, but then again, maybe not. Indian restaurants do tend to cater to the American palate more often than Pakistani restaurants. However, it must be first noted that this is not universally true. It must also be noted that there are reasons to believe that - when the full 90 minutes are done and the final whistle has been blown - Indian restaurants come out - overall - ahead of Pakistani restaurants. That is my considered opinion on this matter any way.

Why? Two reasons, both observations on the restaurant market in the United States. The first thing I would like to note is that where this is greater competition among Indian restaurants, and where there is a greater concentration of Indians, the quality of Indian restaurant food is excellent. This includes such areas as the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. Competition brings quality. This is the point that Prof. Cowen clarified via email in his reply to me. He agreed that the quality of food in these areas is outstanding - and he attributes it to competition as well.

The second thing I would like to note is that Indian restaurants are like American business schools in an important way - they have made various choices that may be treated as "strategic positions". American business schools have, of course, done exactly this - Duke positions itself as a team-based school ("Duke grads are great TEAM PLAYERS!"), Wharton positions itself as a great school for people interested in Finance ("Finance? Come to Wharton!) and HBS positions its students for leadership roles ("HBS- more CEOs than any other business school"). Indian restaurants have done the same thing. They have positioned themselves as vegetarian or vegan, as buffet-based or menu-based. Now, vegetarianism happens to an extremely good lifestyle choice and, therefore, the Quality of a regional cuisine is a function of whether it offers good choices for vegetarians. In this regard, Indian restaurants in the United States are superior to virtually every other regional cuisine (except perhaps Thai).

And so, in the context of great international rivalries, it must be noted that Pakistani are certainly in contention in this game. However, there are few to zero Pakistani restaurants that are exclusively vegetarian - and this is important because the wafting flavors of kebabs and koftas are enough to tempt even the most die-hard dieter. Furthermore, Indian cuisine is a strict superset of Pakistani cuisine and so there is little to support the contention that it has anything to do with Indian food per se.

I note Tyler Cowen's point that Indian restaurants have added more sugar to some of their dishes, have diluted the flavors of some of their soups, et cetera, all of which add up to much less flavor for the gourmet. (This is a valid and very important point - and it is especially true in places where there is less competition.) But being a bit of a gourmet myself, I would argue that you can quite easily satisfy your appetite for excellent food at Indian restaurants by simply downloading the Yelp app for the iPhone or Android and finding out what dishes at a particular restaurant are bad.

It may then be concluded that Tyler Cowen's goal must, in fact, be challenged. As an unbiased referee, I am going to be unable to award this point to him. If anything, given that Indian cuisine is a strict superset of Pakistani, it is clear that you are better off going to an Indian restaurant, particularly one that supports your dietary choices- whether low carb or low fat, whether vegetarian or non-vegetarian.

And now, I must go back to Germany versus Algeria.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Office hours

The office hours for June were on June 2. The next office hours are on July 7 and August 4 between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. Office hours are on the first Monday of every month between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. PST.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ECONOMICS: Indian-Americans and the Spelling Bee

Further thoughts on the success of Indian-Americans in the Spelling Bee below. References to be added later.

Imagine a perfect world of education. Imagine Neverland. It is a world in which all children get access to high quality education. All teachers in all schools are committed and devoted.All teachers in third grade teach children about Matisse, evolution and early American history [1]. The children are all enthusiastic. The parents are involved in their children's school work. Together, they work on homeworks and projects. And the children all learn. The joy of learning pervades the household. The joy is palpable. The household is thriving.

Now let us consider a different setting. We have a different school district. In this school district, the teachers are not all perfect- some are good, some are bad. The students' ability, drive and motivation also lie across a range. Some students are thriving. But some are not.

Let us now zoom in on one classroom. This classroom is in an inner city. In this classroom, a teacher is struggling with a difficult question. She quit her job in the corporate world to take up this job as a teAcher. But the children come from troubled homes. They are unable to focus. They don't even complete the most simple homework problems. The teacher recently received a death threat. She is considering quitting. This school is obviously not thriving.

Consider the parent of a child in this classroom. The parent knows that her third grade child is having difficulty learning about Matisse. (An obscure/hard-to-internalize topic for an eight year old if ever there was one.) But the fact of the matter is that she knows that her child is smart. Her son is able to learn about Matisse just fine when her son is taken through the material carefully by her. But in the classroom, the child faces a range of pressures. It is not so much that the child is unable to learn. The child is unable to "perform". (Maybe the question we should ask is: why should a third grade child be expected to "perform" any way?) It all seems quite unfair. One could forgive the parent's belief, now firmly established, that it is government ultimately that has failed her.

Now, consider yet another classroom in yet another school. This is a middle income families' school. The parents of the children in this school are educated. Most children take it easy. That is, after all, what childhood is all about. but a few are highly driven to succeed. These children are encouraged by their parents to do excel.

As an organization behaviorist, I am always in search of excellence. What is the root cause of motivation[3]? What condition or conditions in the environment[4] infuses some people with drive and energy? Why do other individuals under the same conditions and/or environment seem listless and even utterly bored? How is it that, despite all odds, individuals in even relatively average environments are driven to excel?

The answer must lie in something that must ultimately come down to the individual. Much has been said about the poor quality of educational achievement in America. Is this really true? Steven Sailer has argued that the educational outcomes of Scandinavian-Americans actually closely resembles the educational outcomes of the much admired Scandinavians. I don't wish to cite his opinions on minorities not because his analysis is not "accurate". It is, in some sense. However, it is also important to note that individuals in this setting, and we ARE talking about children here, have little control of their destiny. As Janes March once said, "three decisions that individuals take early in their lives has a huge impact on their future - when they are born, where they are born and who they are born to". One can hardly blame the children. However, it is also important to keep in mind that just because a few children are doing poorly, it does not mean that the whole system is rotten. It simply means that that there may be pockets of excellence even in seas of mediocrity (not that the American educational system is like that). (Please understand that I am specifically not blaming anyone. I refuse to say that African-American children are failing because it is their fault or because there is something in their culture. In fact, I highly doubt that is the case and refuse to believe that the vast majority of children, whether black or white, are anything other than inherently good ). There is goodness and excellence around us. A lot of people seem to miss this completely and fail to see the wood for the trees. And I have generally seen Republicans point out the way to excellence and achievement far more consistently than the Democrats. Whether you believe that or not, you would do well to pay heed to the Republicans whether you agree with them or not. As I have heard many a conservative say- the best allies of the conservatives are ... the facts. The truth is that there is much that is excellent in the American educational system. And it is this excellence that we must seek to identify. Wherever it may lie.

Now, here is a question to think about. Which setting does the real world resemble? Obviously, the second one. But the thing to note is that despite the odds, -some- children are succeeding. So ask not what the country is doing for you. Don't blame the educational systems. Don't be part of the problem. Ask what you can do for your country. Find out how you can get behind what is working. And be part of the solution.

It is fair to ask if the parent can, in fact, know anything about what her children will need to do in order to learn. Has this model of children learning via parentally involved instruction actually worked anywhere? As a matter of fact, yes. This model has worked extremely well in many states. In Texas, I have personally come to know about schools where the children are generally interested and motivated. And they do learn. The home schooling movement is yet another instance of the 'perfect setting' exemplar. When done correctly, children learn rapidly. There was even one home schooled child who went on to attend Harvard. There is ultimately no substitute for motivation and hard work.

The final takeaway is simple- The American educational system may not be perfect but it can be made to work for you. Focus helps. Hard work pays. Success is possible. This is (approximately, to the first degree of approximation) the argument Malcolm Gladwell makes in "Outliers" on the schooling system. (By the way, he is quite mistaken about the significance of the Chinese numbering system in terms of its effects on the ability for young children to learn.)

To understand why Americans feel that their educational system is failing them, it is insufficient to merely look at bad organizations and play the game of blame. One must also look at the average organization. We must ask what makes individuals in even average organizations "wriggle out" and, against the odds, succeed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ECONOMICS: Business, Competition and Corruption - Thoughts on Becker's post

Gary Becker has died. In his honor, I plan to make a follow up post to the following comment I posted to the Becker-Posner blog.


In my view, corruption is primarily a governance issue and there is only so much economists are able to add to the picture.

As one example, Sendhil Mullainathan has attempted to establish empirically whether corruption is something that has negative social externalities at all - Sam Huntington's point that bribery is "speed money" (which Mullainathan has suggested as a hypothesis) and so actually makes things better since things get done versus the counter-hypothesis that bribery simply makes things worse since it adds friction.

So many countries have been seen to regress badly in the presence of corruption, but if you look at countries known to have high degrees of corruption (ranging from Mexico to India), there is only so much economists can bring to bear - in terms of analysis - on this issue. It is primarily a governance problem.

And this brings me to a point I have made several times in the past. Underdeveloped countries are not just under-developed. They are under-managed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

ECONOMICS: Indian-Americans and Spelling Bees

So. It looks like the winners of the National Spelling Bee competition were again Indian-American kids. Further comments to follow.