Penny’s insight—women in science

From an episode of The Big Bang Theory…

Bernadette is being featured as one of the sexiest scientists in California by a fashion magazine. Amy criticises it because it highlights Bernadette’s looks not her scientific achievements. Penny defends it with something on the lines of…

if fashion magazines highlighted female scientists, I might have become a theoretical physicist.

Amy and Bernadette’s smirks suggest that this may just be a joke in the series. But this statement is practical marketing1.

Marketers know to advertise where their audience hangs out, not where other marketers hang out. Featuring women in science magazines is an example of the latter—useful for career advancement of women already in science, but not useful for outreach to new audiences.

To encourage more women into science, we should be featuring more women scientists, more often in magazines that non-science women read. If women prefer reading fashion mags then that’s where more women in science (or business or tech or sports or politics) need to be featured.

Continue reading Penny’s insight—women in science

Availability bias and the remote work advantage

Removal of the easiest to observe input metric – face time – reduces the availability bias in remote work organisations, and helps them focus on the more productive outcome-based metrics.

This switch to emphasis on outcomes can be helpful for individual productivity, but is truly transformative when the whole organisation goes remote-first.

Behavioural biases confuse performance appraisal in office-based organisation culture

The time spent in office looking productive is a key factor in performance appraisals across teams and organisations. Even when time in office is not a formal factor, it unconsciously creeps in and affects rating scores on other factors.

This focus on input factors and ‘visible productivity’ (time spent, sales calls made, lines of code written1, bugs closed) is a result of the availability heuristic and substitution bias in action.

The outcomes of an individual/team’s work are delayed and often diffused – hard to credit exactly. However, the inputs are visible and trivially measurable. In pursuit of productivity metrics, the manager/organisation substitute the hard to measure outcomes with the easily available input factors (time spent in office, calls made, lines of code) etc.
Continue reading Availability bias and the remote work advantage

About those exorbitant hospital parking fees

I had an appointment at the hospital today, and was thinking about the rates at the hospital car park. The parking area at big NHS hospital in my town has the highest parking rates around. They are probably more than double the rate at any other paid parking zone in the town.

At a first look, they seem extortionist. At most places, high parking rates are a nudge for users to either take an alternate means of transport, or to curtail their visits. At a hospital, however, few people visit by choice. Also, the visitors are more likely to use a car – comfort for the ill and all that. By charging these, probably ill, visitors these extraordinarily high rates, the hospital/NHS/council are just heartlessly milking the already suffering.

Unjust!

On a second thought, however, there is a valid reason behind these high rates – consumption tax. They are not just parking rates, they are an indirect tax on the heaviest NHS users.

Continue reading About those exorbitant hospital parking fees

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 presentation deck rule

A PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.


The “or else” implication, in Mark Twain’s words:

I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

Source: The Marketoonist

Biometrics – to identify, not authorise

Biometrics are your username, not your password.

This tweet by Koushik made a lot of sense on first reading. But I couldn’t place my finger on why I agreed with it. Until I read the paragraph below:

All ‘passwords’ should be replaceable. If your credit card gets stolen, you can block it and get a new card. If your Aadhaar number and fingerprint are leaked, you can’t change it, you can’t block it.

Pranesh Prakash in HT

That clinches it for me.

If my password gets stolen, I can reset it to something new, something stronger.

What do I do if my fingerprint is my password? Can’t get a new fingerprint.

Can’t get a new retina, or DNA either. And they’re all a fair bit easier to steal than a strong password.

Sure, use biometrics to identify if you want. But follow the identification with authentication (with a password, or more), before giving that identity any authority.

Mind the gap

I’ve been helping my neighbour, David, with his visa application1. Spending time with him over a couple of evenings gave me a chance to get to know him better. It’s been quite a learning experience for both of us. Their life2 is quite a contrast to ours, in areas we wouldn’t even think twice about3.

  • We live around our smartphones – are probably too addicted to them.
    He keeps his mobile phone in his car, doesn’t even get it to the house.
  • He provides his landline as the only contact number.
    We didn’t even bother with getting a landline when we moved to this house 4 years ago.
  • He doesn’t know how to use a computer. His wife got a new computer as present last year. They’re still to ‘open it’, because she hasn’t gotten up to it yet.
    We spend many days solely with them ‘computers’.
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The reason Scotland lost

Rugby World Cup 2015 - Scotland vs Australia

Yesterday’s World Cup quarterfinal between Scotland and Australia was one of the most exciting matches of Rugby I’ve ever seen.

The Finale

With less than 10 mins to go, Australia were ahead by 5 points and happily wasting time on the ball to kill off the game. The tartan squad, however, never gave up. Miraculously, with just over 5 mins to go, Bennett scored a try for Scotland, and suddenly the tables turned. Australia, one of the favourites for the tournament, were less than 5 mins from being knocked out by a team who’d lost all 5 of their matches in the 6 nations earlier in the year.

With stakes high, and end close, the game got rough and errors flowed from both sides. After a bit of toing and froing, the game ended up with a Scotland lineout with less than 2 mins to go. It was in the Scotland half, but they had advantage of throwing in the ball. All they needed to do was to pass the ball around safely, and then kick it out for a lineout in the Aussie half. But they bungled the lineout. Big time!

Somewhere in the confusing action after that sorry lineout, the referee awarded Australia a penalty for a foul that wasn’t. Australia converted the penalty in the last-minute of the match, knocking Scotland out by 1 point.

The Diagnosis

That crucial, deciding penalty was wrongly awarded. For such a critical decision, in such a confusing space, the referee should’ve1 gone to the TV referee (TMO) for confirmation. Yet, he made a decision in the moment, and ended up kicking Scotland out of the World Cup.

That’s all you’ll hear if you read the British Media, or any Rugby websites and forums:

Scotland cheated out of the World Cup because of a mis-awarded penalty

The referee, Craig Joubert, may be the most hated person in Scotland this week2.

Sadly, this popular outrage just hides the real cause:

Scotland lost because they bungled an easy, advantage play, while leading, with just 2 mins to go 3

Talking Business

Sport and business follow each other closely in many ways, and this event isn’t very different.

Just like in this game, when diagnosing problems in business, the first reasons pointed out are usually excuses, not causes. And just like in this game, these excuses are the most strongly backed reasons by the insiders, the people most closely involved – emotionally, financially, or in another way.

It takes experience, or sometimes an outsider, to look beyond the immediate excuses and issues, to disengage from emotion, and figure out the root causes. Even if we have neither the experience nor a trained outsider, there are frameworks that can help – my favourite being the immensely powerful, yet super simple 5 Whys 4.

These approaches work just as well whether you’re trying to figure out

  • how Scotland managed to grab defeat from jaws of victory, or
  • why flight delays go up in winter (no, it’s not the fog in Delhi or snow at Heathrow), or
  • why product deliveries are always late despite design specs being submitted on time (it’s not always the manufacturer/engineers).

The Culture

Apart from just the obvious problem with identifying and targeting wrong causes, there’s a bigger issue at stake here – company culture.

When actions are taken on just the first or second level excuses/issues, this leads to a culture of covering the obvious bugs. It sends out a message to the employees influencing their behaviour in ways that, over time, escalate into bigger issues – Silo-ing, CYA-first decision making, technical/bureaucratic debt, and faster employee turnover, amongst others.

On the other hand, a deeper root-cause search, though more time & energy consuming, helps develop a sounder culture – both in engineering & bureaucracy, as well in terms of trust and coordination across the organisation.

Unless we’re in the content production business where ignoring root causes in favour of the most popular causes makes more financial sense, it’s critically important to put into practice the habit of looking beyond the first excuses.

 

Continue reading The reason Scotland lost