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".

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.