Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thought of the Day: On Taking Risks

"Looking back in 20 years, you are less likely to regret the risks you took now, than those risks you did not take."
-Author Unknown

Friday, April 22, 2005

Playing to Win vs. Playing Not to Lose

I realized in negotiation class today that some people play to win, while others play "not to lose."

To use a baseball analogy, people who "play to win," feel comfortable walking a batter to load the bases. They are fine with trusting people and taking some calculated risks if it increases their chances of winning.

On the other hand, people who "play not to lose," are driven by their fear of getting hurt. They seek to protect themselves at all costs. They are very hesitant to trust other people and are pre-occupied with avoiding risks.

Of course, there is a spectrum between these two extremes. But my life philosophy is that a strategy solely focused on "playing not to lose" isn't very effective.

Years ago my father told me to "never do business with people you don't trust, because in the end you will always lose." No matter how comprehensive your contract, no matter how airtight your patent, they will find a way around it.

If you find yourself emphasizing the "playing not to lose" mode of thinking when crafting a partnership, ask yourself "am I dealing with people I don't trust?"

An obsession with protecting oneself from harm doesn't serve to create anything of value. It's what can be termed a "negative" strategy, because it is focused on what you "don't want to happen."

If you are to truly benefit from the what a partnership can bring, you need to also foster a culture of co-operation that make partnerships work and to clarify the benefits of the partnership both to yourself and your partners. This is a "positive strategy" insofar as it focusea on what "you want to happen."

Lacking a positive strategy, you are basically assuming your partnership will fail.

So the optimal solution seems to be the middle road: (1) introduce safeguards into your agreements but (2) Develop a vision of a successful partnership and (3) clarify and publicize both for yourself, your partners, and employees, the benefits of the partnership and (4) to maximize the chance of success, find ways to allow people at all levels in both organizations to foster strong working relationships.

Transparent Concrete

While waiting to meet someone in the library, I browsed Domus (an amazing Italian Designer magazine), and noticed they had an article on transparent concrete. They were trying to figure out how to use the new medium. One of their pictures was very beautiful. The picture below, is not as beautiful as the one I saw. But it should give you an idea of this new medium.

Bicycle Lights that can display computer generated patterns!

Attach this to a spinning bicycle wheel,

and you get this:

A blue version:

the thing can even connect to a palm pilot to display custom text:

Hokey Spokes are unique bicycle safety lights that allow riders to display computer generated images while riding at night.

I wouldn't want to be seen riding with these lights, but they are pretty remarkable.

I found this while browsing Cool Neon's store.
Speaking of which, Cool Neon sells plastic wires that glow when connected to a power source. You can make some pretty funky stuff using this wire; for instance, check this "modded case" out:

Some of my friends created interesting halloween costumes using Cool Wire. Speaking of which I'm trying to find an excuse to use some too -- it's only $1.00 per foot on sale and it lasts 800 to 3000 hours.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Nice way of putting it

I love how this guy describes the Adobe-Macromedia merger:

In the classic 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film, "Blow-Up," the protagonist is at a small rock concert where pandemonium breaks out as the lead guitarist throws his guitar into the audience -- putting it up for grabs.

A fight ensues. Somehow, the protagonist ends up with the guitar and scoots into the street chased by an angry mob -- all demanding the instrument. Soon he looks back and the mob is gone. He looks at the guitar one last time, then throws it into the trash.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dorri's Birthday

Tonight, the MIT Baha'i club and some friends celebrated Dorri Ziai's birthday. Finally: an excuse to buy one of those layered scents! Posted by Hello
The guys at Dorri's party Posted by Hello
Dorri & Norah at Dorri's B-day party Posted by Hello

Boston Marathon

At 109 years old, the Boston Marathon is the oldest and most well-known North American marathon. What amazes me, is how it matter-of-factly swings through streets in my little neighborhood. People crowd the sidelines along the entire route to cheer the runners on. Every time a runner passed the crowd would applause and goad the runners on by saying things like "Yeah! you can do it! Good job!" This picture was taken a mile before the finish line. Posted by Hello

Marathon pics

Emmanuel and I at the Marathon (on Commonwealth Ave) Posted by Hello

Monday, April 18, 2005

Friday, April 15, 2005

Pepsi bottles ... hacked!

While at the campus convenience store I noticed one guy carefully examining Pepsi bottles. I realized he was trying to figure out which bottles would let him win a free song (Pepsi is running a promotion where 1 in 3 bottles contains a code that will let you download one free song from Apple's iTunes music store).

"Can you actually figure out which ones have a free song?" I asked him.

"Sure" he says,

"it's easy! -- Just tip the bottle, and look from the bottom to read the bottle cap. If it says 'sorry try again,' your outta luck but if you can't make out what it's saying, it's probably the random code you have to type in to get a free song -- In fact, here's a winning bottle" he says as hands me bottle before walking off.

But the bottle he gave me was of the "diet" variety, so I had to find my own winning bottle. I tried what he said and to my amazement it worked! In about 10 seconds, I too walked off with a winning bottle. Now I'm off to pick my free song.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I was the only person who fired their employee

Ah well. We had a negotiation simulation in my power & negotiation class. The situation: you are an employer, and your best manager asks to go to a weeklong conference in San Diego.

One day, you need some sales data, and you use your master key to open up your manager's office. You get the data you need from a binder and needing a piece of scrap paper but not wanting to use paper from their office, you grab a piece of paper from their wastebasket and write on the other side the figures you need.

Your pen jams, and for some reason you turn the sheet over. You discover a note in your employee's handwriting to one of their friends. It gives the clear impression that the employee intends to skip every day of the conference, and to use the company expense account while spending the week scuba diving and wind surfing with a friend.

In other words, the conference trip amounts to a "de-facto vacation." Moreover, it was strange that they signed up for the conference in the first place because the conference didn't seem well aligned with the company's goals or even the employee's expertise.

You are now in the performance review. The employee has previously complained that the company vacation policy was skewed towards more senior employees.
In my simulation, I focused on the fact that fraud had r -- and that my trust had been violated. I used the following framework:

0. I told the employee he was my best manager -- which was actually a true fact. Then I told him "but that's why it breaks my heart to hear these allegations."

1. Get a truthful explanation -- when confronted with what your what you know about the trip does the employee deny it? Are they genuinely remorseful?

2. Solve the problem -- As a senior manager with a fiduciary duty to the company, I decided to cancel the trip to the conference. It was clear from the case study that the conference was of no benefit to the company and was merely a front for the vacation.

3. Prevent the problem from occuring again and explain the natural consequences of continuing this behavior -- let the employee know that they are on the edge of being fired and if someone like this happens again -- trust will degrade even further resulting in their firing.

4. Get some action to occur that will rebuild trust -- Since the problem as I saw it was a degradation in trust, the solution would have to focus on rebuilding trust. I didn't want to monitor the employee. I wanted to trust them, but We couldn't just repair the situation using words alone. I needed to see some kind of action.

It turned out the employee continued to justify their actions in stage 4, by saying I needed to understand he didn't get enough vacation time. He could have gone to jail for what he had done, yet he was justifying his actions.

I fired him and I was the only person in the class that did this. I felt like I failed in the negotiation by not turning things around, but what was I supposed to do when an employee commits fraud, and is not genuinely sorry they did it? Can you trust that they won't do something highly unethical again?

Strangely half the groups in the class let the employee continue to go the conference so long as the employee gave a presentation when they returned on what they had learned -- to force the employee to show up to the conference. I think this was a cowardly thing to do and I don't think the shareholders would like to spend money on a conference that is unlikely to benefit the company.

I hung out with a friend last night who had been the general manager of one Microsoft's divisions. Since that time he has been the CEO of a number of technology companies. He told me he would have unquestionably fired the person. The fact that they were you "best employee" indicated to him that the person was experienced and that he should have known better.

Having him agree with me made me feel better, but I can't help wondering if there is something to learn from what my negotiation instructor is trying to teach me. Is there really a way to turn things around when a violation of trust of this magnitude has occurred? My negotiation instructor suggested I tell the employee "the fact that you are continuing to justify what you've done gives me less confidence that something like this will not be repeated in the future. You are on the edge." He also suggested giving the employee a paid day off to think about "what we talked about" and to "construct a plan to rebuild trust."

Movie about time travel

An Emerson student put up a short documentary on Time Travel (quicktime viewer required) on studentfilms.com. I enjoyed the film. Perhaps you will too.

Randomly Generated Paper Accepted at Conference

A couple of MIT students created a program to randomly generate computer science papers complete with graphs, citations, etc. The program learns to write papers, given numerous examples of real papers. In their own words, "One useful purpose for such a program is to auto-generate submissions to "fake" conferences; that is, conferences with no quality standards, which exist only to make money." Amazingly, one of their auto-generated papers was accepted at a conference. They are now accepting donations to give a randomly generated speech at the conference with a straight face. You can even generate your own auto-generated paper from their site.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

One of my favorite quotes from a speech by Dr. Arbab -- a Baha'i, and a member of an International Baha'i Body that governs Baha'i affairs:

One of the greatest powers seeded in the depths of the human soul is attraction to beauty ... At one level, attraction to
beauty manifests itself in an individual’s impulse to fashion beauty through the visual arts, music, and crafts, and the pleasure he or she derives from beholding the fruits of these creative endeavors. It motivates search for order, meaning and balance, and creates drive for excellence. At another level it makes obedience a most joyous act, a response to Bahá’u’lláh’s exhortation: “Observe My commandments for the love of My beauty.”
How else is the ardent lover of Bahá’u’lláh to understand the mystery of sacrifice, to persist, and to overcome the formidable difficulties that inevitably arise in the path of service to His Cause?

Wow.. I never thought of the the quest for excellence to a search for beauty ..