Risk – Statistics, norms & decision fatigue

They wouldn’t think of preventing many statistically riskier parenting decisions so long as those decisions jive comfortably with social norms.

Source: Working Mom Arrested for Letting Her 9-Year-Old Play Alone at Park – The Atlantic

This problem is everywhere – social behaviour decisions, government policy implementations, day-to-day corporate decision-making. The reason, hinted at in the quote above, is two-fold:

  1. Strength of ingrained social norms
  2. Mental effort required to understand statistical risk of decisions

Other potential reasons, I guess, are:

  1. Decision fatigue, or coping mechanisms for it – people avoid making decisions requiring involved thinking if they can get away without them , and
  2. Conflict avoidance – going with less controversial, more socially accepted option, even if it may be the worse/wrong choice.

What can (should) be done to overcome these hurdles? (Other than defining regulation more rigidly to take decisions out of hands of people, and/or ‘educating’ people)


Ben Horowitz writes:

Most business relationships either become too tense to tolerate or not tense enough to be productive after a while. Either people challenge each other to the point where they don’t like each other or they become complacent about each other’s feedback and no longer benefit from the relationship. With Marc and me, even after 18 years, he upsets me almost every day by finding something wrong in my thinking, and I do the same for him. It works.

This has worked for me in my personal relationship over last xx years, and is one of the few things I seek in any good business relationship as well.

TV news filter bubble

US News Channels Prime Time Viewership

Quick thought from this chart in The Economist:

CNN was the flag bearer for middle-ground, relatively neutral news gathering in the US, and increased polarisation in US politics after Obama’s election seems to have hurt it the most.

The chart seems to indicate that CNN lost viewers to Fox News in 2008-09. This seems to line up well with the post-Obama election backlash from conservative right, and rise of the Palinistas-Ryanistas / Tea Party movement championed by Limbaugh and supported+tapped by Ailes.

2009-10 saw CNN losing market-share again, while MSNBC held steady – must have been about the time when MSNBC started tilting its programming towards the Democratic left1.

Net result: In 2 years, CNN lost half its prime-time news audience, as viewers on the right and left moved to news networks that echoed their own political views.

While researchers worried about effects of filter bubbles on the internet, the offline news consumption in living rooms was being filtered just as fast.

Read the full article on CNN’s recent transformation here.
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Not More.

A friend wrote a blog post about processing efficiency of manual toll gates versus the automated, drive-through toll gates in Gurgaon. It’s an interesting post, with a surprising conclusion to the core query – which of the two options is more efficient.

However, the last statement in that post kind of surprised me:

What we need in Gurgaon are more roads. More than five times the number of roads as there are today. That’s when people will see an improvement in our daily commutes.

Delhi has vehicle ownership rates of 85 per 1000 people. And yet a 16-lane toll gate has a 12 minute wait. If ownership rates in Delhi quintuple, still a fair bit below developed country numbers, even a 5x increase in roads won’t be anywhere close to sufficient1. More is not a solution.

The solution lies elsewhere – a huge increase in quality mass-transit public transport networks, congestion charging, strict cap on number of cars allowed on roads, alternate date car travel, others, or a combination there of.

We notice this frequently. ‘More’ is frequently provided as a solution when there is no direct cost of providing more, while finding a real, complex solution has a direct cost. More is a lazy man’s solution.

Every time that a user/customer complains of not getting sufficient throughput, the answer, more often than not, is that they need more servers, more space, or more something else. Something that will cost them more money, yet wouldn’t require much effort from us. Yes, we could’ve spent a few days tweaking the code to get out a little more throughput for them from the current servers. But that would require an effort from us. More doesn’t.

Every time the system slows down, your family IT guy will tell you that you need more RAM, or a better CPU with more processing capacity. Why? Because that’s the easy, lazy answer. She could spend a few hours with your system, removing all the crapware, running disk utilities, or (at worse) reformatting and reinstalling the operating system. But that takes effort and time. More is easy.

When that mentee, or interviewee, asks for feedback on how to improve his output, the answer given is usually work harder, spend more time, read more. To give proper feedback would require homework on part of the mentor – study appraisal reports, structure thoughts, engage2 in a discussion. But more is easy. A preserve of the lazy.

More, in these and other similar cases, is actually less. And less is more.

Continue reading Not More.

Thoughts, from a lost context

Discovered these thoughts scribbled (hypothetically) on a note in a draft on my phone. Have lost the exact context in which they were written, but they still seem intuitive yet incisive:

Now that I think about it after a few hours, maybe it’s not just who you work for. Another factor could be what state is the organisation you work for in. I was comparing my state – kindling a startup – to theirs – working in huge, established organisation. My priority is speed. The priority in their organisations may be stability. My focus is to get there somehow. Anyhow. For their organisations, the focus is to stay there.  And to stay within the rules, norms and processes. My focus is quick iteration. Their organisations must be focussing on long-term strategy. Though, one thing is common – the target for both of us is survival. That doesn’t change with size.

Stop Hustling

Loved the idea of Clik. As an end-user, and as a developer – a product that takes away a lot of pain for us while developing an app we are starting work on. Thanks!

However, there’s one note of concern. In this post-Path fiasco world, I (and quite a few people I know), have made it a habit of reading the ToS and Privacy Policies of apps and services before we get down to using them. Combined together, those two documents for Clik are over 20 pages of densely packed jargon.

Having read through enough of them, I know which parts of a legal document to read carefully and which to browse through. Most people don’t. And this is what causes them to ignore these at the time of acceptance, and cry foul later when they realise their trust has been broken.

Wouldn’t it be better, for the sake of users’ sanity as well as to prevent the nascent firms falling into trappings offered by legalese, to present a concise, truthful summary of those documents (ToS, Privacy Policy and like) in a language that every day people can understand?

Let the lawyer’s version be there, it can be helpful in certain, usually unfortunate, circumstances. But let there also be a concise, non-legal lingo version of it as well. Something that normal people, the end users, will read and understand. Something that defines the spirit of the legal words. Something that says, that though the legalese leaves space for doubt, we promise we’ll do just this & this, and never that, with your data.

Who writes it is secondary. The entrepreneurs could write it, or they could hire someone (non-legal) to write it. What’s important is that it be short and clear enough for everyone to read, and that everyone signing up be encouraged to read it.


The current trend of hiding behind the legal version can be problematic not just for the end users, but also for the companies involved. It can make the entrepreneurs feel assured that the legal document gives them enough cover to do everything within its limit. Which is true in a court of law. Not so true in the court of public opinion. For Instance, the address book uploading that Path and many other developers did may be legal and covered in their ToS/PP but still created a furore in the media. Had they been required to write what they were doing in a couple of clear, concise sentences and tried that everyone who signed up read them, I doubt they’d have suffered the same fate.

P.S.: Your post above is less than 300 words and you do a good job of introducing the company, explaining the product and making a pitch. I’m sure start-ups can explain the core of their privacy policy and terms of service in under 500 words with equally simple language.

Posted a version of this post as a comment here.

Time-zone: EST

Over the weekend, dining out with friends suffering in high-paying, corporate jobs, I had a realisation: There’s a big difference in how you measure time when you’re owning a business versus working for one.

When we work for someone else (usually something else – the money), we want the time at work to shrink. We wait for the lunch hour. We want the end of work day to arrive quickly. We look forward to the weekend all week. We want month end, and salary, to come quickly. We plan the time between vacations thinking, dreaming and planning the next vacation. We wish the clock just moved faster. A lot faster. We’ll call it Employee’s Shrinking Time. Or EST.

When we own what we are doing – our team, our firm, our idea, or our dream – we want the same time to expand. We don’t want end of month to come any time soon as that just means you’ve lost another month of critical time… even if we’ve been working 100 hour weeks all month. We want the day to have more than 24 hours, and sleep to vanish. We want the weeks to be longer and weekends shorter. In fact, we don’t just want the time to expand, we want it to just stop. Till we’re finished. (Which, if you’re good, is never.) We’ll call this Entrepreneur’s Stretching Time. Or EST.

So, which EST time-zone do you follow?

Posted from WordPress for Android

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